Kisho Kurokawa

Architect and planner whose design for Kuala Lumpur International Airport fused nature and technology


Kisho Kurokawa, architect and planner: born Nagoya, Japan 8 April 1934; twice married (one son, one daughter); died Tokyo 12 October 200

Kisho Kurokawa was one of the key figures in post-war Japanese architecture. His architectural work and ecological theories were widely acclaimed abroad. He will be best remembered for the Nakagin Capsule Tower in Tokyo, with its adaptable, prefabricated pods providing compact living or working units, and the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia.

He began his long and distinguished career in the early 1960s when he became the youngest architect of the socalled Metabolist Group. Kurokawa had studied under one of the members, Professor Kenzo Tange, at the Graduate School of Architecture, Toyko University, following his earlier training at Kyoto University, 1954-57. The group's name was based on the Greek word for change, but also signified an interest both in Buddhism and in cyclical biological processes. The members of the group, including Kiyonori Kikutake, Masato Otaka, Fumihiko Maki and Arata Isozaki, believed such processescould, in relation to architecture and urban growth, refer to the visible individuality of cell-like structures as part of a larger order such as system buildings or changing city patterns.

Kurokawa's first Metabolist project was Helix City (1961) – a series of linked, helical structures set in an artificial landscape creating "three dimensional, organic vertical land". He was involved from 1964 with the development of Tange's designs for Tokyo Bay, which were widely published internationally. Thesedesigns,which were inspired by Watson and Crick's discovery of DNA, were felt by the new generation of designerstoresemble the molecules of life.

For Kurokawa this led to an interest in extensible capsule structures and to thedemonstration of Metabolistic theories in individual buildings, which had the appearance of vertical machines. The first of these projects, the Nakagin Capsule Tower, Tokyo in 1970 was a mass-produced, concrete tall building with renewable clip-on live and work capsule units. It is currently under threat of demolition due to asbestos content, although it had been nominated in 1997 by Docomomo International to the World Heritage committee for consideration, as one of the major innovative modern-building experiments in post-war Japan.

In 1972 the capsule housing idea was transferred to offices in Osaka for Sony headquarters in which – like Rogers and Piano's Pompidou Centre Paris – the lifts and services were externalised. Although Kurokawa built little in Tokyo until recently (his huge, wavywalled National Art Centre in Roppongi was completed last year), his work throughout Japan and his projects abroad became widely known through asuccession of well-designed schemes, but also for the link to his evolving philosophy of symbiosis that advocated a paradigm shift from "the age of the machine to the age of life".

This was the subtitle of the hugely successful "Kisho Kurokawa Retrospective" exhibition seen by nearly a million people in Japan and in Europe, in Paris, London, Berlin and in Amsterdam – where it found a home in his newly opened Van Gogh Museum extension in 1999.

After the success of the retrospective at the RIBA in London in 1998, I designed and curated with Kurokawa two further exhibitions in Manchester and at Kew Gardens, in London, the latter as part of the 2001/2 Japan Festival. Notwithstanding the great personal success of the retrospective exhibition and the well-attended lectures that accompanied it, a series of reciprocal exhibitions in Tokyo and London of work by young architects from Britain and Japan was organised. Kurokawa's goodwill, time and generosity gave these events a lasting value enhanced by the fact that he had directed generations of Japanese students to the Architectural Association School in London.

Kurokawa had less success in London as a project architect; his scheme for a Japanese Cultural Centre in Gunnersbury Park, featured in the Eco- Architecture/Eco-Cities exhibition in Kew Gardens in 2002, was eventually rejected. However, discussions have recently taken place about the siting of a signature Japan Arena project in King's Cross, while the Maggie Cancer Centre designed by Kurokawa for a site in Swansea has been given the go ahead. To coincide with the retrospective Kurokawa supervised an English translation of his book ThePhilosophy of Symbiosis.

It had had a wide influence in Japan in both environmental and political circles and won the Japan Grand Prix for Literature in 1987. In English, under the enlarged title, Each One a Hero: the philosophy of symbiosis (1997) it espoused his "Age of Life" principles in an almost Al Gore message mode, as "symbolization, deconstruction, relativity, quotation, transformation, nuance and connotation in direct opposition to the methodologies of Modernism". He stated he detested: "analysis, synthesis, adaptation, clarification and denotation".

Symbiosis in Kurokawa's definition, and again from the Greek, means "living together": "a relationship between two or more organisms that is not only advantageous, but necessary to both". One can also detect in his writing during the period of heisei (theera of peace and achievement after Emperor Hirohito's death in 1989) a subtle assertion of the growing significance to the industrialworld of Japan and South-east Asia.

Whilst Kurokawa's writings have a continuing resonance this should not obscure the importance they had on the development of his own architecture. He oversaw a large office in Tokyo (with three branches in other countries) and produced many buildings in places as diverse as Sofia, Paris, Melbourne, Singapore, Beijing and Amsterdam – so many in fact that the core works that espoused his holistic philosophy were sometimes lost in the muchwider output of a company which followed the pattern of the big American "commercial" practices.

Kurokawa was fortunate in his commissions and in the prestigious competitions he and his teams won. Many of these projects allowed him to develop interests in local, regional and international cultures.

A succession of designs from the 1970s confirm this interest, through the impressive projects he developed for regional museums, in Wakayama (Museum of Modern Art), Hiroshima (Museum of Contemporary Art), and the southernmost Museum of General Science in Ehime Province. Here, in a bland industrial landscape, he brought together an assembly of philebanforms – cylinders, cones and cubes – in a hugely successful scheme that sparkles in the sunlight with the titanium slips indiscriminately cast into the concrete walls.

For the Fifa World Cup in Japan and Korea in 2002 he prepared the Oita and Toyota stadia, the former hosting some of the key matches of the tournament. However, it is to Kuala Lumpur that one must look for a major project that testifies to Kurokawa's interest in theory and practice. The KL International Airport, situated on the edge of a large rain forest, was won in competition in 1990. Its design brought about a fusion of nature and technology, an ingenious support system combining structures and services that look like a spinney of structural trees. This project was part of a much wider concept for a Kuala Lumpur "eco-city" corridor that would link the airport with the capital.

Kurokawa's teams have won a number of master planning schemes over the past few years including the new city of Astana in Kazakhstan, the concept plan for Zhengzhou and a "central axis" project for Shenzhen, both in China. In recent years Kurokawa moved into politics, contesting the position of Mayor of Tokyo (which he lost) and afterwards running for a seat in the Upper House.

Kurokawa met his second wife, the well-known Japanese actress Ayako Wakao, when they both appeared together on a television broadcast. He told her that her beauty was quintessentially "Baroque". He received many international awards including the Gold Medal of the Paris and Sofia Academies, Honorary Fellowships from the RIBA and the American Institute of Architects and most recently the Chicago Athenaeum Museum International Architecture Award in 2006.

Dennis Sharp

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Travel
The shipping news: a typical Snoozebox construction
travelSpending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz