Mind & Matter


Metabolism Reawakened

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Run, don’t walk, to get a copy of Project Japan: Metabolism Talks by Rem Koolhaas and Hans Ulrich Obrist, just released by Taschen. This exhaustive and visually immersive text chronicles the Japanese avant-garde Metabolist movement hatched in 1960 which, although it only survived for a decade, proposed ambitious future visions of the city that continue to resonate today.

Koolhaas’ and Obrist’s oral history with surviving Metabolist members (it’s a pity that Kenzo Tange wasn’t among them, but fortuitous that Kisho Kurokawa was interviewed before his death in 2007) documents what the authors call “the first non-Western avant-garde movement in architecture and the last moment that architecture was a public rather than a private affair.”

The book’s interviews left an impression on Koolhaas, who exhibits uncharacteristic inspiration and humility in recalling his time with the interviewees: “It has been a gripping experience, to meet, at this point in my life, the protagonists of an older movement... the conversations demonstrated touchingly that it is more crucial to exploit your limitations that to survive your gifts.” I find a personal connection to these sentiments, as I was similarly inspired by the talks with Japanese architects and designers chronicled in Matter in the Floating World.

Project Japan is a comprehensive, richly-detailed, and luscious project that is sure to satisfy serious scholars and popular audiences alike, and includes hundreds of archival photos, news clippings, TV broadcast stills, sketches, drawings, and model photos from the 1960s—in addition to a photographic record of the current state of built Metabolist works in Japan.

In Project Japan, we confront the raw potency of an unbridled vision for an alternative urban future, which—despite its naive flaws—casts a long shadow over the comparatively piecemeal and low-stakes ambitions of architecture today. As Koolhaas concludes, “As memory weakens, vision is the only option.”




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About the Blogger

Blaine Brownell

thumbnail image Minnesota-based architect and author Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a self-defined materials researcher and sustainable building adviser. His "Product of the Week" emails and three volumes of Transmaterial (2006, 2008, 2010) provide designers with a steady flow of inspiration—a 21st-century Grammar of Ornament. Blaine has practiced architecture in Japan and the U.S. and has been published in more than 40 design, business, and science publications. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship for 2006–07, he researched contemporary Japanese material innovations at the Tokyo University of Science. He currently teaches architecture and co-directs the M.S. in Sustainable Design program at the University of Minnesota. His book Matter in the Floating World was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.