Japanese Lineages In Structural Design

Japan has a wealth of traditional craftsmanship. The traditional Japanese craftsman takes pride in the quality of his work and in the lineage of masters of which he is the living descendant. In traditional Japan, a young man entered a craft by becoming the disciple of a master and learning the practice as an apprentice. As the student’ skills and knowledge increased, he progressed through the stages of journeyman, craftsman and eventually master. This process was slow and took an average 8 years. When the student was finally approved by the master as a fully pledged craftsman, he would receive the lineage of the master’s name which he would inscribe in bold letters above his new shop door and on his tools.

At the same time Japan has been a treasure house of the most advanced architecture and structural engineering design. Yet the same tradition of passing on knowledge and skills can be seen in Japanese lineages of structural design. At the age of eighteen, Mamoru Kawaguchi (1932) entered Fukui University and became the student (“denshi”) of Professor Hirohiko Yoshida, a heartwarming teacher (“onshi”) and a very talented researcher in the domain of earthquake engineering with a great sense for esthetics. At the suggestion of Professor Yoshida, Mamuro became a research assistant and engineer at the Institute of Professor Yoshikastu Tsuboi (1907-1990). Tsuboi was the only engineer in Japan with expertise in shell and hanging structures, capable of making the architect Kenzo Tange’s (1913-2005) designs a reality. The Children’s Library, the first rc shell structure in post war Japan, the Ehime Prefecture Hall, St. Mary Cathedral Tokyo are just a few instances of their collaboration. Kawaguchi skillfully learned Tsuboi’s many tools of analysis and reduced physical model testing, he experimented with new structural systems and adopted his master’s credo “A structure’s beauty can be found near its rationality”. Under Tsuboi’s mentorship, Kawaguchi was responsible for the design of the Yoyogi Structure Stadium (Tokyo, 1964 Summer Olympics) suspension roofs inspired by Eero Saarinen’s Ingall’s Ice Rink. Professor Kawaguchi’s most prominent solo work must be the spectacular pneumatic Expo 70 Fuji Group Pavailion, which was the largest air-inflated structure worldwide.

We will discover and discuss Heritage in Japanese structural design, as the one discussed above, at the event Structured Lineages: Learning from Japanese Structural Design on Saturday April 30th 8.30am-4.30pm at MoMA. 
Reserve your seat here

This event runs in conjunction with the exhibition A Japanese Constellation: Toyo Ito, SANAA, and Beyond and is organized by The Museum of Modern Art and Guy Nordenson of Princeton University, with John Ochsendorf of MIT. Speakers and panelists include William Baker of SOM Chicago; Seng Kuan of Washington University; Marc Mimram, architect and engineer, Paris; Laurent Ney of Ney + Partners, Brussels; Mike Schlaich of Schlaich Bergermann Partner, Berlin; and Jane Wernick of Jane Wernick Associates, London. Additional panelists include Sigrid Adriaenssens of Princeton University; Caitlin Mueller of MIT; and Mutsuro Sasaki of SAP, Tokyo; with concluding remarks by Martino Stierli, The Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design.

Children’s Library (Hiroshima, Tange and Tsuboi 1953) – Tsuboi rationalised Tange’s intended form to a cone, partial toroid and cylindrical rc shell.


St. Mary Cathedral, hyperbolic paraboloid rc shells (Tokyo, Tange and Tsuboi, 1964)
Yoyogi Stadiums for Tokyo Olympics, breaking away from rc shells:  suspension roofs (Tokyo, Tange, Tsuboi and Kawaguchi, 1964)
Expo 70 Fuji Pavilion, largest pneu worldwide (Osaka,Kawaguchi 1970)

Author: Sigrid Adriaenssens


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