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Kisho Kurokawa on life, reality and masterplanning

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It was hard to imagine what Kisho Kurokawa's rambling disquisition on symbiosis, the concepts of the life principle, and the age of diversity, would mean to his besuited, largely male audience at the Royal Society of Arts. But his description of the masterplanning scheme he has conceived for the capital city of Kazakhstan, Astana, struck a topical note in light of the recent focus of attention on those regions formerly within the orbit of USSR power.

It was a revelation to learn of the involvement of the Japanese government's Overseas Development Agency in the future of Kazakhstan, and of Kurokawa's own position as advisor to the prime minister of the country. But it was even more bizarre to hear of the reinvention of Astana, originally built by Kruschev as an agricultural centre - a 'metabolic' city. Kurokawa spoke of a fresh chapter in the city's history, based on a new production of soybeans (he failed to mention whether GMbased or otherwise), a 'natural' power station using wind power, and permeable pavements allowing collection and recycling of rainwater.

This city of only 800,000 inhabitants, covering an area the size of Tokyo (population 10 million), will, Kurokawa predicts, rapidly expand, as a logical expression of the principle of symbiosis, or sustainability. Perhaps then, central Asia is to emerge as a bright beacon in the future of global development, and one might entertain the possibility that even the wreckage of Afghanistan might be transformed in years to come into a model of sustainable development.

According to Kurokawa, we stand at a key transitional point between the age of the machine, and the age of life, as the 20th century - the 'age of the west', dominated by economics, science and technology - fades into a memory, and the 21st century, 'the age of information, creativity and culture', governed by a 'holistic grasp of reality', rather than 'global centrism', takes a grip. Kurokawa's optimistic outlook seems to be rooted in an essentially Japanese philosophy of 'co-living', established as long ago as the 1920s, and which initially found expression in the Japanese Metabolist Movement of the 1960s.Central to this way of thinking seem to be the concepts of the 'cluster city', comprising many centres, and capable of 'growing with nature', and that of the legitimacy of every project in an architect's career being 'different' - in form and use of materials - rather than conforming to the parameters of a signature oeuvre.

Kurokawa believes that the 'universal value of Modernism lies in its abstraction', and that this provides a vital foundation for living together - but that the 'trend' towards acknowledging the separate identities of cultures and places is becoming stronger. His message must be attractive to potential clients, for he certainly appears to be busy, with a number of huge stadia projects under his belt; but the work seems to engage with the ideas only at a formal level, belying the complexity of culturally defined experience.

Kisho Kurokawa was speaking at the Royal Society of Arts on 15 October

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