City as process: Tange Kenzo and the Japanese urban utopias, 1959–1970

Zhongjie Lin, University of Pennsylvania


The dissolution of the Congrès Internationaux d'Architecture Moderne in 1959 was a critical and symbolic moment of transition that opened up possibilities for exploring new approaches to urbanism. The pursuit of new urbanism in Japan in the postwar period often took the form of utopian speculations that reflected currents of socio-ideological changes and diverse local conditions. This dissertation examines the issue of utopianism in contemporary urbanism through an investigation of the Japanese Metabolist movement, and in particular, Tange Kenzo's works of urban design in the 1960s. It aims to situate this avant-garde movement in the context of Japan's postwar urban reconstruction, rapid economic growth and socio-political transformation, and argues that the Metabolists' futuristic concepts, which often envisioned the sea and the sky as human habitats of the future, were in fact the architects' response to the particular urban and cultural crises that confronted Japanese society in the postwar era. The dissertation traces the evolution of the Metabolist movement from its inception at the World Design Conference in 1960 to its spectacular swansong at the Osaka World Exposition in 1970. Based on a metaphor of the city as an organic process, the Metabolists rejected the Modernist planning methods to embrace a structuralist approach featuring a series of radical concepts such as marine civilization, artificial terrain, and metabolic cycle. Two ramifications of urban forms, however, arose from Metabolism's emphasis on the change and transformation of cities: the megastructure and the group form. They represented drastically different responses to the problems of modern city. Through discussions of Maki Fumihiko's concept of group form, Isozaki Arata's notion of ruin, Kikutake Kiyonori and Kurokawa Noriaki's ideas of technology, Otaka Masato's employment of artificial ground, and Kawazoe Noboru's theory on tradition, this study attempts to provide a more comprehensive view on Metabolism that was characterized by diverse, complex, and even contradictory points of view, rather than a monotonous megastructural movement as usually portrayed in historical accounts. Its development involved debates of utopia and anti-utopia. The utopian nature of Metabolism was manifested in Tange's seminal works during the 1960s: the Plan for Tokyo, Yamanashi Communications Center, the Redevelopment Plan for Skopje, and the Osaka Expo. The 1960 Plan for Tokyo represented a sophisticated synthesis of the Metabolist concepts on an unprecedented scale. Serving as a polemical alternative to the official plans of Tokyo, this project posed itself to fundamentally transform its urban structure for the imminent arrival of a post-industrial age, and heralded the architect's later works. The megastructural solutions in these projects betrayed technocratic notion of Tange, who attempted to control the process of urban and social development with predetermined patterns and technological means. This was coupled with his symbolic representation of urban and political ideals, which nevertheless remained unattainable in fact.

Subject Area

Architecture|Urban planning|Area planning & development

Recommended Citation

Lin, Zhongjie, "City as process: Tange Kenzo and the Japanese urban utopias, 1959–1970" (2006). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3225493.