Kenzo Tange (丹下健三) is a Japanese architect, designer and urban planner. He is known as a pioneering post-war figures of the Modern Movement in Japan, recognized internationally. His buildings and projects, especially in Hiroshima and Tokyo, can be considered as icons since their creation.
After graduating from the Hiroshima School of Advanced Studies, he continues his course in architecture at Tokyo Imperial University (now University of Tokyo). He began his career in the office of Kunio Maekawa (1905-1986), a former disciple of Le Corbusier (1887-1965): Kenzo Tange began to learn the principles of Modernism.
He was in charge of several projects in Hiroshima which placed him into the spotlight both in Japan and worldwide: the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum (1949) is one of his emblematic buildings where his radical, simple and brutalist architectural gesture is already on display. On the same site, he was also in charge of the larger development of the Peace Park: he invited Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988) to design the ramps of two bridges, the future Ikiru (Live) and Shinu (Die) – later renamed Tsukuru (Build) and Yuku (Leave).
He had his own agency, the Studio Kenzo Tange (became Kenzo Tange Associates in 1981). His career was dazzling and wealthy: he signed very important buildings and most of them remains today milestones in architecture history, such as Sainte-Marie Cathedral (1955-1964), Shinjuku City Hall (1991, the same year as his Grand Écran building at Italie 2 in Paris), the headquarters of Fuji Television (1996) and the Mode Gakuen Cocoon tower (2008). Tokyo remains his favorite playground: it’s the city where he signed his architectural manifesto, the Yoyogi National Gymnasium, in 1963. The site includes two covered stadiums, imposing, elegant and powerful conceived to emphasize the first Asian Olympic Games in 1964. Perfectly functional, the immense shell uses the typical materials of Modernity: steel, glass and concrete. This perfect mix is devoted to serve principles of harmony and scale that he defends. The general shape is a tribute to traditional Japan, evoking both a pagoda and a primitive heraldic motif. This sort of spaceship highlights Kenzo Tange’s desire to renew tradition.
In both urban planning and architecture fields, Kenzo Tange creates with a constant concern for balance. He had adapted the biological model of mutation to the scale of the city in order to better consider its evolution and flows. His proposal to restructure Tokyo in 1960 around a longitudinal axis and not a classical centripetal hierarchy is probably the best example.
His architecture is often described as a “lyrical brutalism”. He cares about updating tradition combined with a respectful avant-gardism, usually magnified by his favorite material, concrete. Kenzo Tange’s commitment is incredibly significant: “construction is the hope of the human beings in the 20th century, but it also engages their responsibility to the human being of the 21st century.”
Kenzo Tange is one of the most important architects of the 20th century and his words perfectly reflect the new definition of Japanese creation that architects and designers put in place during the century: “the dialectical synthesis between tradition and anti-tradition represents the ideal structure of true creation.” In 1987, he received the highest distinction for an architect, the Pritzker Prize, the ultimate consecration.