Kurokawa, Kisho

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Kurokawa, Kisho

Born April 8, 1934, in Nagoya, Japan; died of heart failure, October 12, 2007, in Tokyo, Japan. Architect. A leader in the Metabolism movement in architecture and one of the champions of a “symbiotic” style, architect Kisho Kurosawa was possibly Japan’s most influential architect. His ideas for buildings that integrated local traditions with modern influences and for creating modular, adaptable structures, won him admiration in his home nation and internationally.

With work appearing in the Netherlands, France, China, Malaysia, and the United States, as well as across Japan, Kurokawa had a far-reaching influence. Along with other members of the Metabolism movement, he strove to find ways to promote renewable architecture, in which buildings could be changed or replaced with less effort than full scale rebuilding. The Metabolists sought to view buildings as living organisms, posing the idea that buildings could grow and change over time. His goal of symbiosis, intended to encourage integrating diverse styles and influences into a complete look, was sometimes considered controversial, but also led him to win high praise from critics.

Kurokawa grew up in Nagoya, Japan, the son of an architect. As a child during World War II, Kurokawa watched as the city where he was raised was destroyed in Allied air raids. Witnessing the event was a powerful influence on the rest of his life, and he became dedicated to developing architecture that would “move from ‘the age of the machine’ to the ‘the age of life,’ according to the Los Angeles Times. After the attacks, the family moved to the home of Kurokawa’s grandfather, where Kurokawa lived in the tea room. That, too, influenced his ideas about architecture, as Kurokawa grew to integrate the styles and ideas of traditional Japanese structures into his more technological, computer-based designs. His education as a boy included Buddhist theory, which taught Kurokawa to value diversity. “He credited Buddhism’s tolerance for promoting the belief that different elements and styles can coexist in architecture while retaining their individual identities,” wrote Bruce Wallace for the Los Angeles Times.

After attending Kyoto University for his first degree, he studied at Tokyo University under Kenzo Tange, a distinguished Japanese architect, who helped guide Kurokawa to forming his own company. Based out of Tokyo, Kurokawa began his work, and in 1960, at the age of 26, Kurokawa became a founder of the Metabolist movement. Over the next ten years, his company moved from the theoretical to the practical, and in 1970, his work debuted at the Osaka Expo, for which he designed three buildings.

After the success of his buildings at the Osaka Expo, Kurokawa gained several major commissions, including the Nakagin Capsule Tower in Tokyo, which was built from modules that could be separate spaces, or could be combined to form larger areas, an idea taken from traditional Japanese architecture. His Sony Tower was completed in Osaka in 1976, and he was also commissioned to design the National Ethnological Museum in Osaka and the Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art. In addition to his work in Japan, Kurokawa designed several buildings overseas, including the Chinese-Japanese Youth Center in Beijing, the Sports Center in Chicago, Illinois, a wing of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, and the highly praised Kuala Lumpur International Airport. The spacious building, which won a Green Globe 21 Certificate as an environmentally friendly building, includes a transplanted tropical rainforest and designs based on Islamic domes.

In addition to his architectural work, Kurokawa solidified his philosophies about architecture in several books and essays. In The Philosophy of Symbiosis, translated into both English and German, he explained the basic idea of symbiosis. Kurokawa was both a champion of progressive architecture, being among the first of his peers to use computers in developing his designs, and a traditionalist, in that he relied on earlier Japanese design, using natural textures and traditional concepts. His focus on natural appearances sometimes led to designs where pipes or ducts would remain visible. A retrospective exhibit of his work toured European cities in 1982, and further exhibits followed, touring North America and Japan as well.

Despite receiving many honors across the world, Kurokawa had difficulties in his later years. His Sony Tower was demolished in 2006, and his Naka- gin Capsule Tower, built to be changeable and long lasting, was scheduled for destruction at the time of his death. He was also spurred into politics, and he ran for governor of Tokyo, seeking to provide affordable housing and build new parks. His bid for the position was soundly defeated, and he also failed to win an election to the upper house of the Japanese Parliament.

Alongside his bid for political office, Kurokawa continued to design in Japan and across Asia until his death from heart failure on October 12, 2007. He is survived by his second wife, actress Ayako Wakao, who also unsuccessfully ran for Parliament, and two children from his first marriage: artist Kako Matsuura and photographer Mikio Kurokawa. Sources: Los Angeles Times, October 14 2007, p. B13; New York Times, October 21, 2007, p. A22; Times (London), October 24, 2007, p. 63; Washington Post, October 16, 2007, p. B8.

—Alana Joli Abbott