Unsupported browser

For a better experience please update your browser to its latest version.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

KENZO TANGE 1913-2005

  • Comment

It is unlikely that any other architect better personified the enormous rebuilding effort in post-war Japan than Kenzo Tange, who has died aged 91. His work - which blended Corbusian Modernism with an instinctive sympathy for Japanese traditions - was perhaps best exemplified in the reconstruction effort in Hiroshima, which was focused on the 1955 Peace Centre, built directly on the spot where the atomic bomb exploded.

Born in 1913 in the small city of Imabari, Tange was inspired in the inter-war years to throw himself into architecture by images of the European Modern Movement, especially the work of Corb. In 1935 he enrolled at Tokyo University's Architecture Department.

The war in the Far East was the launch pad to Tange's career, when he won two high-profile competitions: the Memorial to the Creation of the Greater East Asia CoProsperity Sphere at Mount Fuji and the Japanese Cultural Centre in occupied Bangkok. The designs for both these projects were representative of the heightened sense of nationalism pervasive at every level of Japanese society during the war years.

But it was the end of the conflict, marked by the overwhelmingly destructive force wreaked by Enola Gay, that triggered Tange's escalation to international fame, when he oversaw the masterplan for the reconstruction of Hiroshima. According to his 1987 Pritzker Prize citation, the Peace Centre, at the heart of the Peace Garden, represents the desperate longing for peace that manifested itself in Japan post-1945.

The following few years saw a flowering of Tange's work throughout Japan, including such projects as the 1957 Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices and the 1958 Prefectural Government Offices in Kagawa.

It was in the 1960s that his influence reached its global peak, with two highly influential projects: the twin arenas for the gymnasiums of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and the Yamanashi Press and Broadcasting Centre. These schemes, especially the press centre, resulted, some would argue unfairly, in Tange being labelled as the father of Brutalism.

What is certain is that these projects, together with his hugely radical 1964 plan for the wholesale rebuilding of Tokyo city centre, were enormously influential on many of the dominant figures in the 1960s British architectural scene.

Also during the 1960s, Tange completed the Cathedral of Saint Mary in Tokyo, a building that illustrates perfectly the blending of the Corbusian and traditional styles, while also taking into account the many Western Gothic cathedrals he visited before carrying out the commission.

During the mid to late 1970s the vast majority of Tange's work was built in the Middle East, with completed schemes including the 1976 Institute of Architecture and Urbanism in Algeria and the Amir's palace in Doha, Qatar. During this period he also finished his only major job in the United States: the 1975 extension of the Minneapolis art museum.

Throughout Tange's career he was committed to passing on his knowledge and experience through university teaching. In 1946 he became an assistant professor at Tokyo University and organised the Tange Laboratory. His students included Fumihiko Maki, Koji Kamiya, Arata Isozaki, Kisho Kurokawa and Taneo Oki. Tange was also a guest professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as well as a lecturer at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Washington University, Illinois Institute of Technology, the University of California at Berkeley and the universities of Alabama and Toronto.

Tange's enormous influence on the architecture of Japan and the wider world is perhaps best summed up in his Pritzker citation: 'Given talent, energy and a sufficiently long career, one may pass from being a breaker of new ground to becoming a classic. This has been the happy fate of Kenzo Tange, who in his eighth decade is celebrated as an architect of international reputation.

His stadiums for the Olympic Games held in Tokyo in 1964 are often described as among the most beautiful structures built in the 20th century. In preparing a design, Tange arrives at shapes that lift our hearts because they seem to emerge from some ancient and dimly remembered past and yet are breathtakingly of today.'

  • Comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions.

Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.