Art in Place #1

This post will kick off a periodic series, titled ‘Art in Place’, which endeavours to explore the use of art in the urban environment.

Kagawa Prefectural Office

With the official end of the Allied occupation of Japan in 1952, the newly democratized nation proceeded on a path of massive urban renewal. Kenzo Tange (1913-2005) was one of the architects leading the push to rebuild Japan’s urban centres, creating buildings that embodied Modernist ideals of clean lines and efficient spaces (moving forward) whilst maintaining references to Japan’s cultural past.

The Kagawa Prefectural Office building (1958), located in the city of Takamatsu, clearly exhibits these aspects of Tange’s work. A long, low concrete structure (the legislative assembly hall) runs along the street frontage and forms an L-shape with an eight-story administrative office tower sited behind it. The dramatic overall horizontality is emphasized by the towers balcony railings and support beams that allude to timber forms found in traditional Japanese architecture.

The design also incorporates a spatial and structural organisation that the architect intended as a reflection of the buildings civic role. The assembly hall is raised two storeys on pilotis, allowing easy access to the main tower lobby from street level. The tower, being supported by a central core, enables an unobstructed surrounding lobby space with two storey high glazing on all sides. This creates a transparency for those both inside and out, acting as metaphor for the democratic activities of the civic institution. Shortly after opening, at the request of the Govenor of Kagawa Prefecture, Masanori Kaneko, the rooftop was made open to the public and, with its garden and sun shading tents, soon became a popular viewing spot for both locals and tourists alike.

The lobby interior, along with the entire building, has been preserved in its original condition since opening in 1958. This includes the artwork adorning the internal lobby walls. Titled “Wakeiseijaku – Harmony, Respect, Purity, Tranquillity”, the ceramic tile works were created by Genichiro Inokuma (1902-1993), a renowned artist who was born in Takamatsu. A talented painter, by his early 20’s Inokuma’s work was already being exhibited widely in Japan and in 1938 he headed to Europe, associating with such artistic heavyweights as Picasso and Matisse. Returning to Japan shortly after the outbreak of war, he left again in 1955, basing himself in New York for the next 20 years. By the 1950s Inokuma had abandoned his largely figurative style for abstraction, as is evident from the prefectural office works. Individual tiles are assembled into sharp edged shapes and large circles using a sparse colour pallet of black, white, red and blue, providing a subtle juxtaposition to the largely monochromatic concrete finish of the building. The overall effect is dramatic yet certainly not overwhelming due to both the relative size and outward visual orientation of the internal public space. The timber furniture fittings and multi coloured stools, matching the mural colours, are also original items designed by designer Isamu Kenmochi (1912-1971).

Further preserved examples of Genichiro Inokuma’s public work can be found at Tokyo’s Ueno railway station (a 1951 mural titled ‘Freedom’) and the Tokyo Imperial Theatre (a stained-glass piece tilted ‘Movement’).




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