Functional And Organic Space Differences Cultural Studies Essay

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In the 1930's, functionalism was a blanket level for the common practice or expression of progressive architecture. The term was reinforced by the likes of Geidion and Le Corbusier. [1] That esthetic beauty absolutely depends upon a perfection and precision has been a popularly accepted tenet of functionalism, especially among architects who used this as a weapon against proponents of the vulgar idea that beauty derives chiefly from the external appearance of nature. Ruskins' book, published in Japan in 1933, The Seven Lamps of Architecture, did not have great impact on the notion of space in a Japan rushing to technology. Ruskin held,

All perfectly beautiful forms must be composed of curves; since there is hardly any common natural form in which it is possible to discover a straight line. [2] 

On the contrary, the straight line has been a very basic element of Japanese architecture and the curved line derives from it. Ruskin emphasized the visual almost exclusively, "The eye cannot choose but see." [3] Le Corbusier's thought was compatible "Our eyes are constructed to enable us to see forms in light." [4] Patently, his visual emphasis of the spatial concept and the widespread use of his elementary geometric composition proved immediately compatible with the Japanese love of simplicity. Le Corbusier's impact on their architecture was a foregone conclusion.

We are now concerned with examining the encroachment and impact of the competing functional and organic architectural ideas on the Japanese conception of space and how the Japanese reacted to them. Particular elements of these movements introduced vertical space, the open ground floor plan and the living room to Japanese architecture. In examining the assimilative consequences of these Western ideologies on the Japanese we shall be able to outline the trend of their new directions and to look for the native elements they will retain in their distinctive expression of architectonic space. This method will continue to examine selected major works appropriate to this essay, rather than to present or pretend to a complete history or chronological outline.

The two most important conceptions of space in modern architecture are those of functionalism (occasionally called the International Style) and the organic movement. Both international by now, the first began in America with the Chicago School of 1880-90, but found its fullest formulation in Europe and its leader in the Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier. The second has its greatest exponent in the American genius, Frank Lloyd Wright, and only in the last decade has it taken a firm hold in Europe. Although these two conceptions have in common the theme of the open plan, they interpret it in different ways; the first strictly rationally, the second organically and with a full sense of humanity. [5] 

Zevi compares these two competing conceptions of space that share a common theme, the open plan and depend on its interpretation.

Walter Gropius interpreted functionalism thus,

Functionalism was not considered a rationalistic process merely. It embraced the psychological problems as well. The idea was that our design should function both physically and psychologically. We realized that emotional needs are just as imperative as any utilitarian ones and demand to be satisfied. [6] 

Since the Meiji period the development of the house plan has gradually shifted from the traditional idea of multi-purpose flexibility in the spatial concept to the more specified, functional use of space. We have seen in this movement throughout this work, for example, the introduction and acceptance of the special place for receiving guests in the house, the living

room and bedroom, etc.

Metabolism, established in 1960, combined the influences of both the organic and functionalist spatial concepts of the West. Kiyonori Kikutake, one of the founders of the Metabolist group, explained that Metabolism has a twofold aim, to create space that is both humanistic and functional. Humanistic space in his use is another expression of organic space. Metabolism was another Japanese reaction to the stimulus of Western architecture. An it, in a way not dissimilar to previous attempts, sought to assimilate the best of compatible elements and through their own state of the art to find a satisfying expression of architectural space. That the Metabolists had two competing interpretations to contend with and assimilate shows the Taoist approach to the polarity of being that they applied to the spatial concept.

The Metabolists' active adaptation of functionalism differed from its more static expression in the West where space had to be clearly defined according to its function. The Japanese adaptation found it did not have to give up the idea that space is changing and flowing

experience in which nothing is permanently held or absolutely known. Kikutake's Skyhouse demonstrated that functional space should be interchangeable. By making the service units, such as the kitchen, closet, bathroom and children's rooms independent units, they could be

interchanged any time. This thought was understood to be original with the metabolists. Rather it was, I believe, one of the original concepts within traditional Japanese spatial conception that the universe co-exists with time in various stages. When one cycle is completed, the next one follows, and the next in an endless succession. This was the idealogical basis of :the idea of the Metabolist group.

Some works from the Metabolish architects will demonstrate their position. The design of Kikutake's Skyhouse was based on the concept of an elevated platform where the space was executed for the husband and wife of the family. Joichi Miyamoti, [7] an expert on Japanese fo1klore, contends that the 'lift-up' space of the Japanese house was exclusively for the husband and wife where they pray for kami. Kikutake's plan for the Skyhouse (Fig.1) incorporated a distinctly Japanese concept of space with its hierarchy of spatial arrangement, despite the fact that the house was designed according to metabolism's concept of interchangeability.

His Pacific Hotel (Fig.2), built in 1966, where the bathroom units attached from the outside, was clearly an extension of his Skyhouse idea. The emphasis on the service unit recalled Louis Kahn's arrangement of space in the Richard Medical Laboratory and was reinforced by the Tokoen Hotel (Fig.3), built in 1964. Kikutake's notion of space is that the column creates a place for space and the floor is the determinant of the space. Column and floor are basic elements of traditional Japanese architecture, whereas the elevator and stairs were attached to the main space. Although the dominant core of the hotel was vertical, the horizontal elements seem to cut down the strength of the vertical expression.

An emphatically dominant horizontal expression is best exemplified by Kikutake's Pasadina-Haitsu Apartments (Fig.4) in the Shizuoka Prefecture. Each unit measures 7.2m x l6.8m in a complex that on the whole seems to be branded into the landscape in an integrally organic arrangement of space.

The Yamagata Hawaii Dreamland,(Fig.5) built in 1967 by Kisho Kurokawa, was one of the experiments of Metabolism and one of its most clearly expressed in terms of physical forms especially when one examines the plan. Kurakawa claimed it was 'free from the constraint of geometry.' His Central Lodge for Children,(Fig.6) built in 1964, combined functional and organic space in a well presented vertical plan. An elevated square plan platform represented playrooms and bedrooms with clearly defined functional space. However, the restaurant and meeting place, etc. were placed on the ground floor in what Kurokawa called the 'free space' which he considered functional space, that should be of use beyond even the designed function. The ground floor is further organized by a symbolic plaza in the central space where four columns support the playroom and bedrooms above. The ground floor plan can be interpreted as organic space, and the upper floor plan, as static, functional space. On the whole, it looks like a traditional heavy Japanese roof floating above the ground, just as Jorn Utzon had described the Japanese house, "This Japanese platform is like a table top, and you do not walk on a table top." (Fig.7)

The Hillside Terrace apartments, completed in 1969-77 by Fumihiko Maki, were situated on the site parallel to a street near Shibuya, one of the busiest sub-centers in Tokyo. It was designed as a place which would still reveal traditional culture despite the advance of high technology. Maki claims that the characteristic of Japanese urban space contains the reaction of the Japanese concern for nature and the fear of the man-made environment. The whole complex was designed to be constructed in three stages over a decade. Each stage was intended to reveal the urban problem of the period and the complex as a whole reveals many suggestions for the redevelopment of Japanese urban space. Maki did not try to design a monumental building. Instead, his idea was based on what he called the 'collective form' in urban space in which the relationship of the buildings to each other forms a stronger statement than any single structure does. He intended to move away from self-contained individual buildings to group forms.

The emphasis on the integrated relationship of the combined buildings rather than on creating a mega-structure like Tange's project for building over Tokyo Bay, 1960 (Fig.8) is the most important concern of the Hillside Terrace Apartments. A pedestrian deck originates at the corner plaza on the West and adjoins the shopping mall, which was to create an artificial ground level extending horizontally through various urban phenomena, such as shopping mall, parking area, arcade and by many additional non-specified, non-purposed spaces. This suki-ma concept of space in Japanese is cited very often by Maki as the most distinctive characteristic of urban space in Japan. [8] The horizontal progression from the first to the last stage is what Maki has tried

to reveal of his traditional culture, the Japanese notion of oku, the journey to visit the shrine frequently located on the summit of the mountain.

The Japanese considered the small hill in the city a very symbolic element which the ground spirit occupies. Its green trees add a dimension of depth to the feeling it creates amid manufactured materials. In the last phase of his Hillside Terrace Apartments created a small hill with the trees symbolizing the oku. Although Maki was a member of the Metabolist group, he was more concerned with the natural growth in time of the part, the single edifice, in relation to the whole of the combined group form. His approach is contrary to the mega-structure unit or the CIAM as proclaimed by Giedion and Le Corbusier. His proposal for the development of a linear shopping street in Shinjuku, Tokyo (Fig.9), with Masato Ohtaka was a strong statement against the mega-structure solution using elementary geometrical forms.

Maki's Kato Gakuen School (Fig.10), built in 1972, was based on the open system of education developed in recent years by American educators. It involves a single class of children of different age levels. In this school the multi-purpose and intermediary spaces were combined to maximum degree. For example the corridor serves both as a passageway and a gallery for displaying artwork of the pupils. The plan design was conceived as 'our house' for student and teacher. The space from the entrance hall which leads to the central doors of the multi-purpose room was designed as an organic spine allowing access from the outside to the inner space

by way of the multi-purpose room where various activities occurred. The school is again a result of the combination of functional space such as the classrooms and the flexible multi-purpose room such as the library. Unlike Kurokawa's monumental approach in his Central Lodge for Children in Yokohama, in 1964, Maki took the Metabolism approach of a horizontal spatial


The Metabolist movement of the 1960's was one of the various responses to the Western influences of architecture such as CIAM was. It was able to communicate convincingly with the Japanese people because its doctrine was compatible with the Japanese concept of mujo. Mujo is the recognizing in life of its many dynamic changes, such as the seasons and aging, etc., which sensitivity emanates from the Japanese reverence for nature.

Ordinarily Japanese buildings were not designed with future growth anticipated or assigned, as Kant's notion of the a priori would allow. It was conceded only that buildings would change in the future somewhat in a natural way, that function would dictate future changes based on different needs from the present. In the wake of the Giedion and Corbusier ship, Functionalism, the Japanese were jettisoning their traditional concepts in order to ride the current of change. Yet this new wave would contain its own obsolescence and its forms too would be replaced just as they had sought to replace others. One thing was certain, that the Metabolists tried to awaken the latent traditions such as the love of nature. The word metabolism probably derived from the idea that the dynamic change of the microcosm resembles the changing four seasons.

Only those who adopt a forward looking attitude realize that tradition exists and is alive. It is therefore only they who can confront grandiose schemes for the future nor being carefully involved with the past, but awareness that the most vital task of today is creatively to elaborate both past and future. [9] 

Tange's statement approximates the Buddhist concept of time, past, present and future, all are interrelated with one another.

The influence of functionalism followed with devastating rapidity after the publication of "The house is the machine to live in," by Le Corbusier in 1929. His use of elementary geometry seems to have had appeal and to be understood by the Japanese. This is not to say that the influence of the organic spatial concepts, as introduced by Frank Lloyd Wright especially in the Imperial Hotel were not effective. In fact, in the first 1920 issue of the new magazine, "New House," Koichi Sato published the plan for a simple, ideal Western house, called the Bangaro Type (Fig.11). And in the same year the Bangaro Type was recommended by the same magazine as being suitable for the Japanese. It was actually the same plan on which Wright based all his designs. More subtle than Le Corbusier, perhaps not revolutionary enough for the times, Wright did not have the immediate effect on the Japanese that Corbusier did.

Today's House, published in 1935 by Asahi Newspaper Publishing Co., shows the functional relationships of an ideal house (Fig.12). Both graphs show the centralization of the

i-ma, the living room, a fuller discussion of which follows later. Here it is evident that the influence of functionalism lead to a more defined space in architectural design rather than the traditional sense of space which aimed for flexibility. The reason Wright's idea of architecture is the particular mode of the 30's, that his idea of space was too similar to the Japanese, and the Japanese were seeking a change. In the Meiji period, Tatsuno had to produce Western style architecture by decree, when the national policy forced imitation of things and styles Western.

Post war architecture continued the trend of the pre-war. The influences of Le Corbusier and Bauhaus and the European's new modern style were stamped throughout the works of such Japanese leading architects as Horiguchi, Yamaguchi, etc. While the functionalist effects were immediately felt, the organic spatial concepts matured more slowly. Eventually they too were deeply influential. In discussing the architecture of the period, then, it is necessary to include both these schools and it seems we cannot discuss one without the other. Interestingly this discussion contains the Taoist contradictories in the divergence between functional and organic schools of thought.

The continuously curving wall and ceiling surfaces of the Nippon Life Insurance Co., (Fig.12) built in 1965 by Murano & Mori, Associated Architects, reveal the organic space in the modern plan of this edifice. Although it bore the functionalist mark in the first floor piloti, the design of this extraordinary organically organized space signaled the Japanese to employ the organic concepts that Wright had so successfully proclaimed. Murano had incorporated Wright's ideas of space into an interpretation using all the new materials available in this building which was situated immediately across the street from the famous Imperial Hotel.

The Saitama Prefecture Museum (Fig.13), built by Mayekawa in 1971, is a return to the traditional Japanese space plan, which was not based on a defined functional space.

The plan shows one space overlapping the other. Despite the fact that Mayekawa worked in Corbusier's office, he constantly sought a way to update the traditional space through modern means. A similar example can be found in the Setonaikai Museum for Historical Folklore Data (Fig.14), by Tadashi Yamamoto (1973), it was planned with a consciousness of tradition very much in mind. The skillful use of a natural slope and of building materials gave the building a unity of structure. Not clearly defined, its circulation lead one to oku, the consciousness of wandering deep into inner space.

It is impossible to survey all the modern buildings in Japan, nor was it my intention. Suffice it to say that in Japan there is no opposition between function and organic. It is impossible to separate them satisfactorily due to the Japanese love of nature, which is the more organic spatial approach. Of course, one could not cope with the advancements of modern life without the use of more functional space. Tange voiced the following concerns in the 1960's.

On the other side, there has been an individualistic, specific and personal-subjective tendency in modern architecture…A similar trend towards specialization and individualization has also been present in the method of functionalism in contemporary architecture. [10]