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Metabolism movement, architecture of its time

28/07/2021 in Your time
For many, many years, buildings had to stand up straight, follow perfect lines of convergence and repeat each floor exactly. This was the architectural rule, and it was carved in stone. Similar rules applied in watchmaking, where time had to always go in the same direction, had to be indicated by hands and had to use a mechanical geartrain. These analogue movements were the sole and dominant system in place until the arrival of the first quartz systems in the late 1960’s in Japan.

A few years earlier, in the same country, the Metabolism Movement attempted to shake up the rules governing architecture. For more than a decade, the archipelago was mired in past-war reconstruction while simultaneously seeing a massive increase in population density. Old European ideas about town planning were shaken by a group of young local architects at the World Design Conference in Tokyo in 1960. These young troublemakers were Kisho Kurukawa, Yukata Murata, Kazumasa Yamashita, Fumihiko Maki, Masato Otaka, Kiyonari Kikutake and others. Most of them were former students of Kenzo Tange, now considered the father of contemporary Japanese architecture. For them, the city of the future needed to be flexible, expandable, alive, modular and organic - prompting the reference to the metabolism. Growth was designed upwards rather than outwards, to suit Japan’s physical limitations. It was built around infrastructure inspired by the spinal column, with prefabricated and replaceable homes - cells that could easily be installed and dismantled as populations waxed and waned.

A few of their designs from Metabolism 1960: proposals for a new cityscape became reality, including the Nakagin Capsule Tower by Kisho Kurokawa, in Tokyo’s Shimbashi district, which remains the international face of the movement. Harnessed to two 13-storey concrete towers, these capsules - or cells, rather - had a maximum surface area of 10m². The ceiling height barely reached two metres. These cells were prefabricated in the factory, and several could potentially be put together for new purposes or larger families.
For Kisho Kurokawa, who died in 2007, the shape of a building should adapt to the present moment and the present needs. Alas, his vision frequently ran aground on the solid world of actual construction.
 
In the end, it is much easier to associate his vision with Klokers’ own philosophy, where watches can be fitted with different straps and accessories depending on the wearer’s mood, activities or clothing. This is very much in tune with the Metabolism movement, with the case acting as the spine of these timepieces. It is the beating heart too, the perfect way to celebrate the 23rd Olympics of the modern era, hosted by Tokyo.
 
 
Text: Frédéric Martin-Bernard
Photo : Unsplash - Susann Schuster
 
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