Wright and Tange in Tokyo

6 June 2013
Author: Mariana Rich

Today we visited Jiyu Gakuen Myonichikan, an important piece of historic preservation in Japan, as it is one of two projects by the American architect Frank Lloyd Wright that have not been dramatically changed. Built in 1921, Jiyu Gakuen was started as a high school for girls by Yoshikazu and Motoko Hani. Myonichikan “The house of tomorrow” is comprised of two parts, the first one made by Frank Lloyd Wright and the second by his apprentice Arata Endo, who introduced the Hanis to Wright who at the time was working in Tokyo on the design of the Imperial Hotel.

Given that in 1934 the main campus was relocated to Higashikurume City, Myonichikan has since been used by school alumni for various activities. The buildings survived the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923 as well as the Pacific War [WWII]. From 1948-1973 the complex was used as a campus for Jiyu Gakuen Seikatsu Gakko.

Myonichikan has some particular characteristics that give the signature of the architect such as low-pitched roofs to emphasize the horizontal line, a geometrical arrangement of window frames, no direct path at the center but two paths located at the sides, and the use of Ohya stones, which is one of Wright’s features in his projects in Japan. The complex was designated as a cultural property in 1997.

Our second visit was to Tokiwadai, one of the most desirables places to live in Tokyo, as it has a public plaza as a welcoming space when coming out of the subway station and a planned grid for single-family houses. Some of the streets of this area are different from the streets found in other Tokyo residential areas as these are bigger and have a median that separates vehicle lanes. These streets have 1m of sidewalk on both sides, 6m of roadway and 1m of median.

The third stop was at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, built in 1991 by the Japanese architect Kenzo Tange. With its rigorous composition, the building represents Japan’s monumentality and power, has one of the best view of Tokyo, and houses the mayor’s office. After its construction, this area became the new downtown resulting in the construction of several new buildings in its surroundings.

Finally we met Rasmus and Jeanette Frisk from arki-lab, urban consultants in Copenhagen, DK, at Shinjuku Station East Plaza, for another diagramming exercise on how to gather the necessary information for our research report. Through an axonometric we gather information on function and activity, in a plan movement and connectivity, and in a section the proportion and the edge conditions present in this particular site.

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Jiyu Gakuen Myonichikan by Frank Lloyd Wright. Mariana Rich, 6 June 2013.

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Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building by Kenzo Tange. Mariana Rich, 6 June 2013.

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