kiyonori kikutake (1928 – 2011) image © osamu murai

designboom would like to take the time to commemorate a japanese architect, visionary and mastermind at the leading edge of the metabolism movement, kiyonori kikutake. his revolutionary ideas manifested into masterplans are currently being displayed at the ‘tectonic visions between land and sea’ exhibition in gund hall at the harvard school of design, after having been shown in the ‘metabolism: city of the future’ exposition at the mori art museum in tokyo. upon his many works, some of the keystone projects displayed are the ‘marine city’ (1958), ‘aquapolis’ (1975), the ‘skyhouse’ (1958), and the ‘miyakonojo civic hall’ (1966).

to understand how far the impact of his ideas rippled across the world it is important to have an understanding of the movement and the era in which he resided, and led. conceived at the 1960 world design conference in tokyo, metabolism was a japanese-originating response to post world-war issues in urbanism in a country that now found itself with the necessity to re-build homes and cities, specifically confronting matters in density and functionality. see designboom’s earlier coverage explaining metabolism in more detail, through the thoughts of rem koolhaas, here.

kiyonori kikutake (1928 2011) ‘marine city’ conceived in 1958

kikutake’s ‘marine city’ was one of the first major players in the movement, defining a new radical idea of creating a floating metropolis in the ocean; self sustainable, flexible, clean and safe, earthquake-proof, impervious to flooding and away from urban sprawl on the main land. the project is based around steel rings, measuring over two miles in diameter, on which towers would sit  holding 1250 magnetized living units that could be easily replaced without causing any damage to the structure. the circular foundations would float on bottle-like forms boasting rich aquaculture farming. a surely radical idea for his time, breaking all traditional conventions and addressing issues important even today, sustainability, modularity and alternative living concepts.

kiyonori kikutake (1928 2011) floating towers look like a modern oil rig but produce energy and self sustain

kiyonori kikutake (1928 2011) (left) visualization (right) modular pods can be placed and removed from the towers

kiyonori kikutake (1928 2011) marine city master plan

kiyonori kikutake (1928 2011) (left to right) axonometric, elevation and section of ocean pylons

kiyonori kikutake (1928 2011) ‘skyhouse’ built in 1958

the next important facet in this movement was the construction of his own residence in tokyo: ‘the skyhouse.’ perched on four piers 21 feet in the air, the ten square-meter flexible floor plan encompasses his new ‘movinette’ system of portable furniture pieces to accommodate one of his most important design principles: architecture’s need to adapt to change. the open space accommodates virtually any variation in rooms, including the addition of a suspended children’s room with ladder entry, sun room, living room, kitchen and bath that constantly change positions.

kiyonori kikutake (1928 2011) ‘miyakonojo civic hall’ built in 1966

kikutake’s timeless ideas and principles have impacted virtually all architects today, including most notably his protege toyo ito and rem koolhas. his mindset is the basis for almost all ‘future’ utopian architectural ideals with regards to our relationship to our built environment and to its resources, and his doctrine will be relevant for many years to come. last fall at age 83, he attended a symposium with fellow colleagues and metabolists kenji ekuan, and funihiko maki to discuss their principles. just before leaving, he walked up to the stage, wagged his finger at the 1000 audience members, and stated:

‘you have come here today and listened to us talk about metabolism, but please don’t think you have understood. please don’t think you have understood anything, ever.’

kiyonori kikutake (1928 2011) ‘aquapolis’ built in 1975 as japan’s pavilion for the world expo