Kenzo Tange Biography

Born September 4, 1913, Imabari, Shikoku Island, Japan; died of a heart ailment, March 22, 2005, in Tokyo, Japan. Architect. Kenzo Tange was considered a genius for the buildings he designed throughout his career. His design to create the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park was chosen, and his career took off. His design for the main stadium at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo showcased his work to the international community. He designed more buildings in his lifetime than legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Tange was awarded architecture's highest honor, the Pritzker Prize, in 1987.

Tange was born on September 4, 1913, in Imabari, on the Shikoku Island in Japan. As a teenager, he saw a failed design of Le Corbusier (whose own purist designs ushered in the Modernist era in architecture) which sparked his interest in architecture. He attended Tokyo University, graduating with a degree in architecture in 1938. He worked for four years in the office of Kunio Maekawa, who was a disciple of Corbusier.

Tange entered graduate school at Tokyo University in 1942. Four years later, he became an assistant professor in the Architecture Department. He also created the Tange Laboratory. He would go on to teach and influence a number of Japanese architects, including Takashi Asada, Fumihiko Maki, Koji Kamiya, and Kisho Kurokawa. Maki would later also win the Pritzker Prize in 1993.

After the devastation from the United States' bombing of Hiroshima, where a reported 140,000 people lost their lives and many more were negatively impacted, the country of Japan decided to rebuild the area. Tange's design for the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park was chosen in 1949. This was a busy time for him as he also presented his ideas for the park at the International Congress of Modern Architecture in London, England. Tange was among such luminaries as Walter Gropius, Jose Luis Sert, and Le Corbusier, whose style he adopted into much of his work.

For the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, Tange combined traditional Japanese architecture with Le Corbusier's Modernist design. He created a concrete and glass pavilion on stilts, and also included a massive arch that evoked the funereal houses for Haniwa statues honoring ancient Japanese nobility. The park was completed in 1956, and became the spiritual core for the new Hiroshima.

Wanting to change post-war Japan into a prosperous, booming country despite its size, Tange continued to design, and following the completion of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, he designed the Kagawa Prefectural Office in 1958. During this time he designed a number of buildings including Tokyo City Hall, the Rikkyo University Library (also in Tokyo), and Kurashiki City Hall. Tange also opened his own architecture firm, Kenzo Tange + Urtec. The company later became Kenzo Tange Associates.

Tange is perhaps best known for his design of the main stadium used in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. The Yoyogi National Stadium combined traditional and modern Japanese architecture. Made up of paired structures, the stadium's roofs were suspended on slung metal cables; the result resembled ancient temples. Many lauded Tange for the surreal beauty of the stadium. At the same time, he designed and built the Santa Maria Cathedral in Tokyo. He also released his 1960 Tokyo plan that would involve building new civic buildings, a park, and two towers. He introduced designs to extend the expanding city out over the bay using bridges, viaducts, and floating parking. Tange also designed buildings in other countries. He took part in the reconstruction of the Skopje in Yugoslavia. He designed and built the Kuwait International Airport and the Overseas Union Bank in Singapore, as well as its National Library. He worked on projects in other countries including Nigeria, Italy, and Saudi Arabia. Of his work in the United States, he played a role in Baltimore, Maryland's construction of its Inner Harbor. He also designed the addition to the Minneapolis Art Museum, and the American Medical Association Building in Chicago.

Tange had continued to teach at Tokyo University, becoming a full professor of urban engineering. He retired in 1974 as a professor emeritus. He continued to teach, but mostly in North America at numerous illustrious colleges and universities, including Harvard, Princeton, the University of Alabama, the University of Toronto, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Tange's constant adaptation of his building designs was praised by many, and he was awarded the Pritzker Prize in 1987. According to the Washington Post, the jury that chose him for the honor "called him a leading theoretician of architecture.…" In his acceptance speech, which was quoted in London's Independent, he said, "I do not wish to repeat what I have done. I find that every project is a springboard to the next, always advancing forward from the past to the ever-changing future.…" According to the New York Times, the jury declared, "Tange arrives at shapes that lift our hearts because they seem to emerge from some ancient and dimly remembered past and yet are breathtakingly of today."

Tange returned to Tokyo City Hall and redesigned it. Today the building is home to 13,000 bureaucrats. The building's twin-tower structure was nicknamed "Notre Dame de Tokyo," and rose high above other skyscrapers in the city. Tange suffered from a heart ailment and died on March 22, 2005, in Tokyo, Japan; he was 91. He was preceded in death by a daughter, and is survived by his wife, Takako, and son, Noritaka. Sources: AIArchitect, (May 20, 2005); Independent (London), March 26, 2005, p. 48; New York Times, March 23, 2005, p. C16, April 11, 2005, p. A2; Washington Post, March 24, 2005, p. B6.

Ashyia N. Henderson

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