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Two Approaches to Constructing Cultural Difference in Modernity: An Analysis of Kenzo Tange's work Before & After World War I

Part 2 Dissertation 2005
Jane Ong Yu Zi
National University of Singapore Singapore Singapore
The early 20th century saw an increasing awareness amongst many Japanese intellectuals of the cultural crisis confronting Japan. In face of increasing loss of cultural identity due to rapid modernization, many Japanese intellectuals began constructing cultural difference as a way of establishing identity in an increasingly homogeneous world. In many ways, the quest to construct identity based on certain perceived unique characteristics of the Japanese was not so much a retreat into traditionalism as a response to the problems of globalization. These issues of identity and cultural difference were grappled with in the work of many intellectuals at that time. The work of architect Kenzo Tange, especially his early works from the 1940s to 1960s, may be situated against this backdrop of issues concerning Japanese identity.

This paper proposes that analyzing Kenzo Tange’s work in the periods just before and after World War II, reveals a change in Tange’s approach to tradition and modernity after World War II. This change will be investigated mainly through three projects, Tange’s winning entry for the Greater East Asian Co-prosperity Sphere Memorial Building, the Hiroshima Peace Center, and the Kurashiki City Hall. The hypothesis is that through an analysis of the projects mentioned above, we may begin to detect a distinct change in Tange’s approach to constructing cultural difference in the face of increasing cultural homogenization caused by Japan’s rapid modernization.

The first part of this paper argues that before the end of World War II, works such as the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere Memorial Building Competition Project in 1942, have a nostalgic quality that is essentially a representation of a past ideal. In the second part of this paper, the Hiroshima Peace Center completed in 1955, is positioned as the point of change in Tange’s approach towards tradition and modernity. The third part of this paper will examine the change in Tange’s approach towards constructing cultural difference through Tange’s series of city hall projects in the late 1950s and 60s. It is proposed that two distinct architectural strategies surface in Tange’s discourse on constructing cultural difference in face of modernity.

Jane Ong Yu Zi

Jane Ong’s work on Kenzo Tange comes at an opportune time to re-evaluate Tange’s with his recent passing away. In the dissertation, Jane dealt with a number of issues, namely notions of tradition and nostalgia and what it means for Japan to overcome Modernity as shaped by the West. Primarily, Jane worked through two buildings; both memorials, one to the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere and the other to the atomic devastation of Hiroshima. Jane illustrates that Hiroshima Memorial besides marking a shift in Tange’s work, how through Tange’s representations (photographic means) speak and distinguish further Japan’s tradition and through it, Tange’s shift in the use of Heidegger’s notion of “thingness”.

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