Machine Age To The Age Of Life Cultural Studies Essay

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Eurocentrism which mean modernisation has been the pride of the West and the dream of the rest of the world. Modernization meant Westernisation and mechanisation. The modern architecture born in the machine age was an attempt to dominate and control non-Western countries. Therefore, Kisho Kurokawa began the metabolism movement as a challenge to this machine age. In 1959, he stated that the age was shifting from that machine age to the age of life. Basically, the age of machine is the age of homogenization where the age when architecture styles tend to be a universal international style whereas the age of life in opposition is the age of diversity and pluralism. This prediction is gradually being realised in the last few years of twentieth century. The essential difference between life and a machine is a machine has eliminated all needless ambiguity, being constructed entirely on functional and rational principals whereas life is a flowing structure, forever creating a dynamic balance. Since 1959, Kisho Kurokawa has consistently worked towards architecture of the age of life. Metabolism and symbiosis are becoming keywords of the age of life. From the Metabolism movement of the 1960s through his pursuit of such ideas as intermediary zones and ambiguity, Metamorphosis and the philosophy of Symbiosis, he has always consciously employed the key words of life systems, biology and ecology, which are fundamental to his aim of transforming the age of machine into age of the life. Symbiosis emphasizes on the existence and autonomy of parts, subsystems as well as subcultures. Metabolism is the symbiosis of times and symbiosis of heterogeneous cultures and spaces. Symbiosis of times is in the way that the past, present and the future are at an equal distances. In architecture, metabolism can translate as architecture of change and growth, a sustainable and ecological architecture.

MBA(2007,October 17),KLIA dan Kisho Kurokawa , Retrieved 19 October,2010 from


Kisho Kurokawa was born in Kanie, Aichi in 8 April1934. He studied architecture at Kyoto University, finish his bachelor's degree study in 1957. After that, he continues his study at University of Tokyo and graduate with a master's degree in 1959 under the supervision of Kenzo Tange. He then went on to the doctor of philosophy but subsequently dropped out in 1964.

Since 1959, for 40 years, he had created architecture that has presented a challenge against the Age of Machine principle from the age of Machine principle and moved towards the architecture of age of life principle. In 1960, he cofounded the Metabolism Movement with associates with his colleagues, Fumihiko Maki and Kiyonori Kikutake whose members were known as Metabolists. Their design objective was to produce a self-end system by applying the principle of metabolism. It was successful and they received praise for the Takara Cotillion Beautillion at the Osaka World Espo 1970. The group was dismantled shortly thereafter.

About his architecture at metabolism, tradition may not appear to be present, but underneath the hard skin of the surface, his work indeed Japanese. However, it is difficult to claim that the modern technologies and material he called on was inherited from the Japanese tradition and that the traditional forms of Japanese architecture can be recognized in his contemporary concrete or steel towers. Kisho Kurokawa specifically referred to the four factors; materially, impermanence, receptivity and details in his discussions of new wave Japanese Architecture.

Kisho Kurokawa is not only a superb architect, but also a very enthusiastic educator for the next generation. Every year, he lectures at universities all over the world. Kisho Kurokawa wrote extensively on philosophy and architecture and lectured widely. He wrote that there are two traditions inherent in any culture; the visible and invisible. His work, he claimed, carried the invisible tradition of Japan. Kurokawa's book Philosophy of Symbiosis was first published in 1987 and this book was awarded the 1993 Japan Grand Prix of literature and was revised in 1996. The book then has been translated into English and was citied excellence by the AIA in USA in 1992. Besides, the book is also selected by RIBA in UK as one of the ten most excellent books in 1993. In the same year, Michael Blackwood Productions, an American production company produced Kurokawa's documentary film: Kisho Kurokawa which was broadcast in several countries. In 1994, the Art Institute of Chicago named their art gallery the Kisho Kurokawa Galley of Architecture.

He is survived by his wife, Akayo Wakao who is a popular film actress that also ran successfully for Parliament and two children from an early marriage. His daughter, Kako Matsuura is an artist whereas his son, Makio Kurokawa is a photographer.

Kisho Kurokawa was the president of Kisho Kurokawa Architect & Associates, which established 8 April 1962. The main office of his enterprise is in Tokyo with branches offices in Nagoya, Osaka, Kuala Lumpur, Astana, Beijing and Los Angeles. The company is registered with the Japanese government as a "First Class Architecture Office."

Kurokawa's architecture evolved from the Japanese tradition, and the context of his work has the beauty of Japanese aesthetic. His architecture emphasized on keeping traditional concept. Kurokawa specifically referred to the four factors in the concept of invisible, including materiality, impermanence, receptivity and detail in his discussions of new wave Japanese Architecture.

His commissions over the years included the Sony Tower in Osaka (1976), the National Ethnological Museum in Osaka (1977) and the Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art (1989). In the United States, he got only one project which was the Sporting Club at the Illinois Center in Chicago (1990) whose the façades are in a slender grid like pattern. Besides that, in a salute to Chicago, he topped the building's towers with windmill-like sculptures. In 1990, he also mapped out a master plan for Astana, the new capital of Kazakhstan which devising a system of linear zoning rather than a radial urban core. In the same year, Kurokawa also designed the Chinese-Japanese Youth Center in Beijing. In 1998, he designed a new wing of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

Kisho Kurokawa died of heart failure on October 12, 2007, at age 73.

His awards include Takamura Kotora Design Award in 1965, BCS (Building Constructors Society) Award in 1977, Manichi Art Award and BCS Award in 1978, Mandara Bulgarian First Order, Bulgaria and BCS Award in 1979, BCS Award in 1983, Gold metal from Academy of architecture, France ; Annual Furniture Design Award for High Back Chair in Edo Series and " Schöner Wohnen " West Gemany in 1986, Public Architecture Award, Prize for Excellent Work for National Ethnological Museum, Japan; Richard Netra Award from Califonia State Polytechnic University, USA; Decorated Commandeur de l'Ordre du Lion de Finlande, Finland in 1988, Decorated Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the Ministry of Culture, France; grand prix with Gold Medal at The Fifth World biennale of Architecture, Sofia, Bulgaria and BCS Award in 1989, Award of Architecture Institute of Japan; Public Architecture Award, Prizes for Excellent Work for National Bunraku center in 1990 ,BCS Award in 1991, Japan Art Academy Award (Highest Award for Artist and Architect in 1992, BCS Award in 1993, AIA Los Angeles Pacific Rim Award ( first awarded) USA World Best Architecture 1997 Award in 1997, Public Architecture Award, prize for excellent Work for Museum of Modern Art, Wakayama/Wakayama Prefertural Museum in 1998 as well as Decorated with Order of Cultural Merit by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and so on.



Metabolism is an Eastern, primarily Buddhist concept. At its base is the philosophy of Symbiosis. Symbiosis was a catchphrase also employed by Shiio Benkyoof the Zojoji temple in Shiba. The philosophy of symbiosis aims the symbiosis of time and space.

From Kisho Kurokawa perspective, Metabolism is based on two main principles which is diachronicity and synchronicity of space. Diachronicity or can be called as the symbiosis of different time periods and the processes and changes that a creature undergoes as it lives and synchronicity. This movement will only achieve when this regenerating process can be introduced into architecture and city planning. The theory emphasizes that a work of architecture should not be frozen after it completed whereas should be apprehended instead as a thing or as a process that evolves from past to present and from present to future or this past to present to future process can so-called three time periods. The metabolist movement do not exclude any particular time period but to express the past, present and future in a single architectural space, regarding every point in time as equidistant from the observer. The equal distances placed between human and the past, present, future provides architecture with a wide variety of motifs but it also presents certain problems. One of the obvious problems is the role of architect. The architect is the one who should take a positive role in the process of work in the growth and change of his works after its initial construction. However, the life of the architect is inevitably shorter than the life of his works. Therefore, it must enter into a discourse with society and be modified at the hand of those who use it. The diachronicity of Metabolism clearly assents to the participants or occupants. This concept of the 'self-end' system was an important current in his work in the latest sixties and early seventies. Two principles were worked in the Nakagin Capsule Tower which are the architecture has the capability of regenerating and changing the work in response to the future, and that architectural form can be modified depending upon the way the space is used. The philosophy, by contrast, sought to transcend the Western opposition between man and technology, and began from the assumption that man and machine could live in symbiosis.

Metabolism also expresses the aesthetics of Japanese culture called "provisionality". The idea is all the materials existence will go to ruin. This concept is comes from the Buddhist concept of "transiency". Therefore, Japanese tradition does not put much importance on the material itself because they know that every existences cannot stand forever, but the spirit and the relationship of architecture and its environment can do that. Some examples kind of Japanese cultural characteristic still exists in Japanese society include the consideration of life and death as having the same value, the aesthetics of harakiri of the samurai as well as the aesthetic of loving cherry blossoms falling in beautifully. The sense of aesthetics and philosophy can be inherited.

The second principle of metabolism which is the synchronicity of space or in other words,the symbiosis of heterogeneous cultures and space. Before the advent of Claude Lévi-Strauss and Structuralism, there are different levels of development and therefore there is various cultures of the world. The culture of French in highest level followed by American culture, then Japanese, then the cultures of the less developed and developing nations of Africa and the Middle East. The American economist Rostaw's theory of the stages of economic development offered seemingly objective support for the view of the world order. Therefore, to equalise the distance of different culture, synchronicity offer a challenge which instead of affirming the structuralism that each culture as having its own distinct character that can at the same time be linked to every other culture in a single global structure. Kisho kurokawa regard this principle of Metabolism as the paradigm shift from internationalism to interculturalism.

Besides studying architectural during 4 years in Kyoto University, Kisho Kurokawa studied consciousness in the Buddhism of India, establish in the fourth century, as a root of Tamaiki (co-living) Buddhism. The Tamaiki Buddhism is the most important reference point of his Philosophy of Symbiosis. In Buddhism, human suffering is said to be caused by two things which include craving and ignorance. Carving attach to things and the delusions that arise from that attachment. Ignorance can be defined as not to know what our universe is, what our self is. When someone thinks that they are living entirely on their own, they being to cling to own life and fear death or in other words, this is called craving arises. The arrogant attitude that someone knows everything there is to know is based on ignorance. The escape from those two kinds of suffering is called liberation, and that escape is based on grasping and living the concept of symbiosis.

Kurokawa defined the term of Symbiosis as encompasses opposition and contradiction which refer to new, creative relationships through competition and tension. Besides, he also defined the term as refers to a positive relationship in which the participants try to understand each other, despite mutual opposition, refer to relationships that spark a level of creativity impossible for either part to achieve alone as well as is an interactive relationship of give and take. As the philosophy of symbiosis comprise various dimensions: the symbiosis of history and the present; the symbiosis of the part and whole, nature and man; the symbiosis of different cultures; the symbiosis of art and science; and the symbiosis of regionalism and universalism.

In ancient times, abstract geometrical forms such as pyramids, cones, squares and circles symbolised a vision of the universe transcended regional cultures. Therefore, it can be said that abstract geometry got two meanings which are possesses a universality that different cultures can share as well as it also has distinct historical meaning through treatment, placement, technology, and the materials applied. By applying the abstraction of 20th century with the iconography of history and the cultural identity of lopes in a cosmology of culture, Kurokawa is try to tackle the philosophical challenge of Abstract Symbolism.


Kurokawa's architecture evolved from the Japanese tradition, and there is a Japanese aesthetic in the context of his work. His architecture emphasized on keeping traditional Japanese concept invisible, especially materiality, impermanence, receptivity and detail. Kurokawa specifically referred to these four factors in his discussions of new wave Japanese Architecture.


Japanese always tried to explore and use the natural colours and textures of the materials that needed in construct in a building. The designs were mostly avoid the usage of artificial colours whereas use natural colours and textures of the materials own as the materials already have their own natural beauty. Japanese belief and take advantage on the natural materials and this belief influence Kurokawa to cherish all the materials. Therefore, his buildings always use iron and aluminium with concrete finish.


Kisho Kurokawa feel that during World War II,almost much of the cities in Japan being destroyed. Since Japan usually use natural elements like timber in their building, there were all being burnt into arches and totally disappear. In the same time, Kurokawa explain that Japan almost every year hitted by natural disasters and this cause the buildings in the cities being continuously destroyed. Kurokawa stated that "an uncertainty about existence,a lack of faith in the visible, a suspicion of the eternal." The idea of Kurokawa is to build the building to a more like " temperory " structure that can be removable, adaptable and interchangeable.this concept influnce Kurokawa emphasizes his work more to open system which include time and space.


Receptivity can be possibly said that as a "tradition". Since Japan is a small contry with more developed country like China and Korea as neighbour, the Japanese have to make continuous attempts to learn others country or foreign culture as well as establish good relationship with the larger nations to avoid the small country like them being attacked. This concept of receptivity makes the Japanese to develop their country from a farming island to an more imperial nation. The Japanese change by not only absorb the political system and advancement from China, but also learn the western knowledge and techniques. Kurokawa also use this concept in his design but at one point, he tried to find his own identity. In early stage, he followed the Modern Movement style that learns from his lecturer, Tange, Isozaki and their peers. Kurokawa followed the style until at the point which in 1960's, he form a small group of architects with his colleague which they called themselves as Metabolist. These groups of architect believe that in the new era, life is not presented and they want to find out new solutions.


Japaneses emphasizes more on the detail in their construction where the process of working is from parts to whole buildings but not from whole to parts. As an example, the connections in Japanese house was always crafted carefully. Therefore, Kurokawa also use the same concept and also focus his work in the detail of connections and finishes of the building.


Randy (2008,December 24),The Futuristic Nakagin Capsule Tower, Retrieved 19 October,2010 from

Post Second World War Japan bared scares so severe that a radical approach to the rebuilding of its society as well as its cities was needed. Tokyo suffered 98% destruction of its building and houses, a dramatic process of reconstructing the city were needed. Nakagin Capsule Tower or called Nakagin Kapuseru Tawa is the first realisation of the concept of modularization. It is located in Shimbashi, Tokyo, Japan. It is one of the products of Kisho Kurokawa. In the early seventies Kurokawa explored the use of industrial technology to develop living capsules: prototypical living capsules which could be fabricated to compete with the cost s of traditional housing construction methods of the time. Kurokawa was able to prefabricate these capsules when working with shipping container manufactures and have the box like elements delivered to site. He intended that the capsules to be replaced every 25 years at any point causing no disruption to the rest of the building. Each of the capsules was to be upgraded every 25 years so that to give the flexible structure a life expectancy of 200 years.

Nakagin Capsule Tower was designed in 1970 and the construction started in 1971 and done in 1972. The site area is 441.89m², building area is 429.51m² and total floor area is 3091.23m². There is a basement level and eleven and thirteen floors in each respectively tower. The cores are made of steel frame and reinforced concrete. From the basement to the second floor, ordinary in situ concrete was used and light weight concrete was used on the upper floor.

The Nakagin Capsule Tower was completed as the movements' influence was beginning to wane. The tower was originally conceived as a Capsule Hotel to provide economical housing for businessmen working late in the central Tokyo during the week. The tower is basically composed of 140 concrete pods or called capsules which are 2.5mx2.5mx4m each capsule plugged into two interconnected circulation cores where a self services café at the ground floor and offices in first floor.

Plan of Nakagin Capsule Tower

Lewism A tectonic Notebook (2007, May 21), Nakagin Capsule Tower, Retrieved 19 October,2010 from

The interior of a capsule

Precast concrete was used for the floor plates and elevator shafts in order to make early use of the staircase. The construction pattern allowed two days of steel-framework followed by two days of pre-cast concrete, making the staircase completely operational by the time the framework was finished. By incorporating the frames, rails and anchor indicator boxes in the precast concrete elements on site construction of the elevators was reduced. The 140 capsules that are hung on the concrete towers are identical, prefabricated steel cells containing various utilities by employing prefabricated cages.

Detail of system joining capsules to shaft

Lewism A tectonic Notebook (2007, May 21), Nakagin Capsule Tower, Retrieved 19 October,2010 from

Inside the tower, each capsule is as compact as a space capsule. A big porthole window dominates the far end of the room, with a bed tucked underneath. The capsules were designed to accommodate the individual as either an apartment or studio space, and by connecting units they could also accommodate a family. Complete with appliances and furniture, from audio system to telephone.Part of the design's appeal is voyeuristic. The portholes evoke gigantic peepholes. The big size of the window, coupled with the small scale of the rooms, exposes the entire internal capsule or apartment to the city outside. Many of the midlevel units look directly onto an elevated freeway, so the occupants are almost face to face with people in passing cars. During rush hour, when there is traffic jam, the drivers can point to the window or wave at the occupants.


In the first stage, there is a lift shaft in the centre of the tower in each block. The lift shafts are circled by linking many staggered levels. It is constructed of precast reinforced concrete. The building and the stairs can be used just after each floor is installing and include components for the running of the lifts.

After that, there are also service risers which are in fact exterior fins on the lift shafts concealed by the attached capsules.

There are 140 one-room capsules in the tower. The capsules including details like carpeting and bathroom fixtures were prefabricated in a shipping container factory. They are welded lightweight steel-truss boxes. The capsules were clad with galvonises ribbed steel panels, a coat of rust prevention paint and a glossy spray of kenitex which is an impervious weatherproof plastic with estimated 20 year life span.

The capsules then brought by large trucks from the assembly plant 450km away in Shinagawa. The capsules were reloaded onto smaller trucks before weaving their way into downtown Tokyo.

In final stage, the capsules were lifted by crane and bolted with four high-tension bolts to the lift core. They were all attached in 30 days.

William Harbison (2009,August 20),Architecture project: Will Do, Retrieved 5 October,2010 from


There are some issues behind this Nakagin Capsule Tower. First of all, the idea of metabolism is somewhat synonymous with responsive cohesion. However, this does not mean the capsule tower is necessarily responsively cohesive. The capsule tower does not successfully function as its theory suggests. Its core failure is its inability to metabolise. The building designed to grow and change has not even responded to its death sentence, let alone pre-programmed life cycles. The capsules must be replaced in order to prove that the tower is workable. The capsules in the tower were intended to be replaced every 25 years. But now, it has been 38 and the capsules are beginning to decay. Besides that, due to the tower design, only the top capsules can be removed. Therefore, to replace a tower capsule requires removing all capsules above it first. Moreover, there are not any capsules suppliers. It is impossible to replace the sculpture individually. The demolition was approved in 2007. The capsules aged 35 years that time, 10 more than planned. However, the tower still stands thanks to global support for the iconic metabolist structure. In the future, the capsule tower cannot remain as it is now. The building has two options which are completely demolition or have the capsules replaced. The building's demolition would be a bitter loss. The Capsule Tower is not only gorgeous architecture; it is the crystallization of a far-reaching cultural ideal. Kurokawa is at fault here by not enabling the capsules to be individually replaced, therefore 140 strata-owners must agree for anything to happen currently.


Kisho Kurokawa is a great architect that brings out the idea of metabolism. The theory emphasizes that a work of architecture should not be frozen after it completed whereas should be apprehended instead as a thing or as a process that evolves from past to present and from present to future or this past to present to future process can so-called three time periods. Besides that, his theory also include equalise the distance of different culture. The Nakagin Capsule Tower was an innovative masterpiece by architect Kisho Kurokawa. Capsule replacement is a major concept of the capsule tower but so far it has not been realised. If this architectural artefact is to be responsively cohesive the capsules must be individually changeable. Once individual metabolism is established any manufacturer may supply their own capsules. This would provide not only the ability to change but also an interesting mix of capsules finally able to fulfil the concept of representing the individual. Based on The New York Times, 2007, the residents of Nakagin Capsule Tower voted in favor of demolition. Even that the building has been listed for the World Heritage, since 1996, by the International Committee of Docomomo International, the tower still standing only lack of funds for demolition. However, it can be said that the theory of Kisho Kurokawa is being knocked down. The concept is great with just four bolts and bolts in a different prefabricated capsule, but it never happened if the units not replaced. It can also be said that the design has failed with the active collusion of the client who has never maintained the building. The building has two options which are completely demolition or have the capsules replaced as it is not safe to be used after 38 years and not even a capsules being changed.