japanese pavilion questions the consequences of 1970s modernization
japanese pavilion questions the consequences of 1970s modernization japanese pavilion questions the consequences of 1970s modernization
jun 12, 2014

japanese pavilion questions the consequences of 1970s modernization

japanese pavilion questions the consequences of 1970s modernization
photo by andrea avezzù / courtesy of la biennale di venezia




at this year’s venice architecture biennale, the japanese pavilion presents a diverse range of architectural projects and historical perspectives which emerged during the 1970s, responsible for shaping the country’s contemporary urban fabric. responding to curator rem koolhaas’ theme for the national pavilions – ‘absorbing modernity: 1914-2014’ – the installation takes the form of a construction site with industrial containers, orange building mesh and timber pallets filling the room. the exhibition unearths a variety of artifacts and research studies collected from the past 100 years, providing a lens with which to closely examine japan’s rapid modernization. entitled ‘in the real world’, the exhibition is organized by the japan foundation and curated by norihito nakatani.

japanese pavilion venice architecture biennale designboom
the installation takes the form of a construction site with industrial elements filling the pavilion
image © designboom




after recovering from the significant damage suffered during world war II, by 1968 japan rose to become the world’s second largest economy. architecture was instrumental in this process, which reached its climax at the osaka expo of 1970. at this point, a variety of factors – including environmental pollution, the stagnation of living conditions and the oil crises – caused architects to reexamine modernism, consequently prompting a variety of independent reactions.

japanese pavilion venice architecture biennale designboom
‘in the real world’, the exhibition unearths a variety of artefacts and research studies
image © designboom




young designers reconsidered their roles, boldly experimenting with small houses to suggest a new vision of the city. some japanese architects travelled through asia, the middle east and africa in order to understand how communities are formed, and how spaces within a city are commonly occupied, while historical researchers were compelled to leave their desks in search of enlightenment. this reexamination of japanese modernity was born from a desire to redefine the built environment by learning from life in the real world. 

japanese pavilion venice architecture biennale designboom
the objects provide a lens with which to examine japan’s rapid modernization
image © designboom




however, these efforts were not limited to small scale projects and peripheral experiments. for example, ‘umeda sky city’, completed in 1993, comprises two high-rise structures connected by a bridge -creating a village within the growing city of osaka. designed by hiroshi hara, the building was a result of years of methodical research where the architect studied in great detail ancient communities from other parts of the globe. 


‘I may talk about communities and streetscapes, but in the end the question is one of creating a layered condition. I was imagining that architecture would become something like a cloud’, explained hara.

japanese pavilion venice architecture biennale designboom
drawings and diagrams are presented on timber pallets and crates
image © designboom




the pavilion comprises work from a range of contributors, from pritzker prize laureate toyo ito to lesser known architects such as reiko tomita. the exhibition presents their work alongside their response to the rapid modernization of japan.


‘we were sensitive to the way in which society was becoming more consumption-oriented and gave serious thought to how we ought to respond to that change without simply accommodating ourselves to it’, explained toyo ito who longed for a total liberation.


‘it’s impossible for one mind to anticipate and design all the ways a building will be used. each person needs to think about the parts of buildings he or she uses, if the designs of public facilities are to improve’, says reiko tomita who argued that architecture would only evolve if worked on collaboratively.

japanese pavilion venice architecture biennale designboom
a collection of radical and alternative solutions are presented 
image © designboom




while many of this generation’s achievements have been greatly lauded, some have also been forgotten or neglected. the display presents a range of insightful and connected material, telling the story of an unconscious, yet collective, effort to overcome the stagnant conditions of modernization.

japanese pavilion venice architecture biennale designboom
model of farmer’s house, sugadaira (1975-86) by osamu ishiyama
image © designboom




commissioner kayoko ota explains the ideas behind the exhibition in more detail below:


‘while taking up the common theme offered by the general director of the 2014 international architecture exhibition at the venice biennale – absorbing modernity: 1914-2014 –, the japan pavilion will attempt to weave a continuous history of the 100 years of the country’s architecture through a systematic research, which has actually rarely been done. we see this as an ideal opportunity to tell the story of unparalleled architectural development in japan (a country that underwent drastic modernization in an effort to catch up with the west), and to feature the finest buildings and strongest concepts that arose as a result by a century’s worth of japan’s absorbing or confronting with modernity.’

japanese pavilion venice architecture biennale designboom
model of umeda sky city (1993) by hiroshi hara
image © designboom




the japan pavilion will be transformed into a ‘storehouse’ filled with the testaments in various forms of the 100-year history of japanese architecture. the building itself was designed by takamasa yoshizaka, who studied with le corbusier, and in 2014, it will be organized like an ancient asian storehouse along the lines of the shosoin or a takayuka-style (raised-floor) building. in the case of the latter, daily life and production was carried out on the ground below the building, and harvested crops were carried up and preserved inside the structure. in the japan pavilion, the elevated exhibition space will serve as the storehouse and the space below it, equipped with pilotis, will function as a venue for dispatches and discussions that will generate the present and future.’

japanese pavilion venice architecture biennale designboom
archived records and blueprints 
image © designboom




‘visitors will be able to view a wealth of scenes taken from a variety of objects (exhibits) over this 100-year period. in addition to blueprints and models, the exhibition will include architects’ sketches and notebooks, letters, drawings of structures and equipment, furniture designed as part of a building, magazines and books that exerted a strong influence on architecture, photographs, pieces of demolished buildings, photographs and paintings depicting imaginary views of buildings and cities, and documentary footage of construction work.


‘this assemblage of varied and diverse things, together with details that tend to be omitted, will help locate architecture in a social context or in a broader perspective than before. (in order to realize this objective, we plan to use this opportunity to bring together a variety of public and private archives of modern architecture that are currently scattered all over japan.) further, we hope to convert some of the most important historical statements into ‘voices’, which can be enjoyed aurally by visitors.’

japanese pavilion venice architecture biennale designboom
installation view of the exhibition floor 
image © designboom




‘a selection of buildings that stand as the most important and essential examples of architecture will be selected from each era during the 100-year period and displayed in a select group of photographs and drawings on the four walls of the exhibition room. all of the objects piled on the floor will play a narrative role in relation to the buildings that are featured above them on the walls.’

japanese pavilion venice architecture biennale designboom
the display is categorized by letter
photo by andrea avezzù / courtesy of la biennale di venezia




the first period under examination will be the 1970s. japanese architects, who had by the 1960s largely absorbed modernism, began to take new directions over the next decade. the illusion of finding a utopia in the future had collapsed, and by setting their sights on the society around them, the architects began to reexamine the significance of modernity and the historical perspective. the 1970s can in a sense be seen as the real start of the modern era. were these architects’ questions and proposals accepted or rejected? have any of them continued on to the present? history is a journey for ‘now’ – this trip at the japan pavilion begins with this vicarious experience of the ’70s.


in 2014, for the first time ever, all of the national pavilions at the biennale have been invited to adopt and explore the same theme in the exhibition. on this special occasion, I would also like to attempt for the first time to thoroughly convey the strength and historical depth of japanese architecture.’

japanese pavilion venice architecture biennale designboom
the entrance to the exhibition – titled ‘in the real world’
image © designboom



in the real world


venue: japan pavilion at the giardini, venice
commissioner: kayoko ota (exhibition organizer / editor)
curator / director: norihito nakatani (professor, dept. of architecture, waseda university)
deputy commissioners: keiko tasaki, manako kawata, yoko oyamada
deputy curators:
hiroo yamagata (translator/critic), keigo kobayashi (architect, assistant professor, dept. of architecture, waseda university), jin motohashi (research associate,dept.of architecture, waseda university)
organizer: the japan foundation

  • I suspect that this is what Rem had in mind. If I were there I would linger in the Japanese exhibit a long time 🙂

    Rich says:

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