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A Career in Architecture

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In her book, American Architects and the Mechanics of Fame, Roxanne Williamson hinted at such a thing as a “creative spark” being somehow “transmitted” to an employee in an office of an architect who was either just-about-to-be-famous or flush with the success of their first highly acclaimed project. Williamson contains her study to American architects but, if we think about non-AmerIcan architects, it’s possible to plot a chain of fame from Joseph Hoffman to Arata Isozaki. We all know that Le Corbusier (a.k.a. Charles Edouard Jeanneret) spent three-to-four years of internships in the offices of architects who’d recently had their first successes. He spent part of 1907–1908 in the office of former Secessionist Josef Hoffman who’d just completed his first major building, the Sanatorium Purkerdorf, in 1905 and CJ would have witnessed Hoffman’s Palais Stocklet was being constructed. The nascent Le Corbusier would have observed the benefits of positioning oneself as one of the artistic avant-garde.

Charles Edouard decamped to Paris to work in the office of Auguste Perret who in 1903 had completed his famous reinforced concrete apartment building at Paris’ rue Benjamin Franklin. He was to stay in Perret’s office for part of 1909 and part of 1910 and in that time might have gained an appreciation of championing concrete as the material of the then future. Sometime in 1910 Charles Edouard moved to the office of Peter Behrens who that year completed the AEG Turbine Factory in Berlin. AEG had been a client of Behrens since 1906 but, within one year, Behrens was the company’s artistic consultant designing all graphic materials, logos and buildings of which the Berlin factory is the most famous. Behrens is known as the person who invented corporate branding, but he also positioned himself as the person who could design anything. These were valuable lessons. In 1912 Charles Edouard moved back to his hometown and designed two houses, one the Villa Jeanneret (Maison Blanche in 1912 for his parents and also in 1912 Villa Schwob. In 1916 he moved to Paris, became Le Corbusier and his career proper began.

Over the period 1928–1930, Japanese architect Kunio Maekawa spent time in Le Corbusier’s office that must have been a hive of activity at the time.

  • 1928, CIAM I, La Sarraz, Switzerland, Foundation of CIAM
  • 1929, CIAM II, Frankfurt am Main, Germany, on The Minimum Dwelling
  • 1929, September. Writing the introduction to Vol.I of his Oeuvre Complete 1910-1929.
  • 1929, Mundaneum proposal completed
  • 1929, Overseeing the production of Vol.I of his Oeuvre Complete 1910-1929.
  • 1929, Lecture trip to South America
  • 1929, April. Construction of the Villa Savoye begins but not according to the drawings published the same year

Meanwhile, there were other buildings on the go. The period 1928-1930 was a good time to be in the office of Le Corbusier and learn how to be an architect, even if the man himself was often elsewhere drumming up business. LC singlehandedly invented how the office of any of today’s famous architects operates.

Kunio Maekwawa returned to Japan in 1930 and Japan was to invade Manchuria the following year. Maekawa would have been 26 at the time but, being from a noble family, instead of being called up he found a place in the office of ex-Frank Lloyd Wright employee, Antonin Raymond and was to stay there from sometime in 1930 to sometime in 1935. During this period, Maekawa was responsible for the Viscount Soma Residence (1932) and the Akaboshi Tetsuma House (1933). The practice was busy. Its golden years were 1924-1938 and it had a reputation as the most avant-garde practice in Asia. It was said they merged European modernism and elements of Japanese traditional architecture.

In 1935 Maekawa left Raymond’s office to start his own office, Maekawa Kunio Associates. It can’t have been easy, with Japan now in full wartime mode and economy. Accordingly, Maekawa’s early projects are wood as the use of metal for buildings had been restricted from 1937. Kunio Maekawa is the weakest link in this chain as his only recorded projects are the 1936 Hinomoto Hall (no information) and the dubious-sounding 1937 Memorial Hall to the Founding of the Nation (competition, no information). Kenzo Tange graduated from Tokyo University in 1938 and, upon graduation, went to Maekawa’s office. I venture because, in Japan in 1938, Maekawa’ office was the closest he could get to Le Corbusier whom (or whose works) he admired. From 1938–1941, Maekawa’s office was involved with “Various Military Projects“. Wikipedia: [During his employment, he [Tange] travelled to Manchuria, participated in a design competition for a bank, and toured Japanese-occupied Chengde], then known as Rehe. It’s unclear what Tange would have learned from Maekawa apart from “A client is a client” – something Maekawa would have learned from Le Corbusier. In 1939 Tange was to go back to Tokyo University, do a PhD, and become Assistant Professor in 1946.

The story now switches to Kenzo Tange. As an undergraduate, his instructors included Hideto Kishida and Yoshikazu Uchida, two architects who built mostly at the University of Tokyo campus. Uchida is best known for his 1935 Yasuda Auditorium, but there is also the General Library and the Institute of Science First Building. In 1935, Uchida was president of the Architectural Institute of Japan and probably Japan’s most important architect at the time. Strangely, Kishida is also credited with the design of Yasuda Auditorium but there was also the Faculty of Science Building No. 1.

These university professors weren’t campus planners but architects paid by the university to run their own practices. (Kazuo Shinohara ran an “atelier” at Tokyo Institute of Technology, under this system. His contribution to the TT campus was Centennial Hall.) So in 1939 Tange was back at Tokyo University as a postgraduate student and, in 1942, won a competition for the (never built) Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere Memorial Hall and, most likely on the back of this, became assistant professor in 1946 and began his own studio within the university. Now designing for peace, he won the competition for the Hiroshima Peace Memorial in 1949 (although Denthe layout of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere Memorial Hall is said to be similar[1] according to David B. Stewart (misnamed as Denis B. Stewart in Tange’s Wikipedia entry.)

Hiroshima Peace Memorial was completed in 1955 but, in 1951, Tange designed a house for himself, completed 1953, and the only house he’s known to have designed. Designed after 1949 and completed by 1953, its an apparent precursor to Hiroshima Peace Memoria when elevating it on syncopated structural bays make it Hiroshima Peace Memorial reprised in miniature. Japanese people look at its elevated box and see Ise Shrine. Westerners look at its elevated box and see Japanese-style Modernism. Design is part of the mechanics of architectural fame, but a tangential one.

After those two, things happened quickly.

  • 1949–1955 Hiroshima Peace Memorial
  • 1953 Own House
  • 1953 Hiroshima Childrens’ Library
  • 1954-1958 Kagawa Prefectural Government Office
  • 1957 Sunpo Kaikan
  • 1960 Kurashiki Town Hall
  • 1960 Tokyo Masterplan
  • 1961 Yamanashi Press and Broadcaster Centers
  • 1962 Ninchinan Cultural Centre
  • 1963 National Gymnasium 1 and 2
  • 1964 St. Mary’s Cathedral

Tange had been an associate professor at University of Tokyo since 1946, and already known as the designer of Hiroshima Peace Memorial when a student called Arata Isozaki enrolled in the early 1950s. Isozaki was therefore an undergraduate at the same university as Tange from, say, 1951 to 1954 and doing a PhD and/or in Tange’s office until 1963. He would have known of or witnessed all the above projects. Nine years is a long time in the office of a successful architect but Isozaki also managed to propose City In The Air (1960) and design and have built the Oita Medical Library (1962) and the Oita Prefectural Library (1962–1966), both in his home province/prefecture. I sense connections.

It’s said the ideal time for an architect to leave and start one’s own practice is when they have one project on the go and the promise of another. By 1962 Isozaki had seen and learned enough, already had a significant media presence and some significant completed projects. Time to go. One thing odd about Arata Isozaki is that he not only learned the ropes but had his early successes while still working for Kenzo Tange. His career and practice were undoubtedly successful by all the standard metrics, but it terminated that particular chain of fame. If any architect left Isozaki’s office and went on to recreate the magic for themselves, we would’ve heard about them by now. Isozaki’s role in keeping architecture going was to take a different form by selecting Zaha Hadid the winner of the 1982-1983 peak competition.

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