Kenzō Tange (4 September 1913 – 22 March 2005) was a Japanese architect, and winner of the 1987 Pritzker Prize for architecture. He was one of the most significant architects of the 20th century, combining traditional Japanese styles with modernism, and designed major buildings on five continents. His career spanned the entire second half of the twentieth century, producing numerous distinctive buildings in Tokyo, other Japanese cities and cities around the world, as well as ambitious physical plans for Tokyo and its environs. Tange was also an influential patron of the Metabolist movement. He said: “It was, I believe, around 1959 or at the beginning of the sixties that I began to think about what I was later to call structuralism”, (cited in Plan 2/1982, Amsterdam), a reference to the architectural movement known as Dutch Structuralism.
Influenced from an early age by the Swiss modernist, Le Corbusier, Tange gained international recognition in 1949 when he won the competition for the design of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. He was a member of CIAM (Congres Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne) in the 1950s. He did not join the group of younger CIAM architects known as Team X, though his 1960 Tokyo Bay plan was influential for Team 10 in the 1960s, as well as the group that became Metabolism.
His university studies on urbanism put him in an ideal position to handle redevelopment projects after the Second World War. His ideas were explored in designs for Tokyo and Skopje. Tange’s work influenced a generation of architects across the world.
Born on 4 September 1913 in Sakai, Japan, Tange spent his early life in the Chinese cities of Hankow and Shanghai; he and his family returned to Japan after learning of the death of one of his uncles. In contrast to the green lawns and red bricks in their Shanghai abode, the Tange family took up residence in a thatched roof farmhouse in Imabari on the island of Shikoku.
After finishing middle school, Tange moved to Hiroshima in 1930 to attend high school. It was here that he first encountered the works of Swiss modernist, Le Corbusier. His discovery of the drawings of the Palace of the Soviets in a foreign art journal convinced him to become an architect. Although he graduated from high school, Tange’s poor results in mathematics and physics meant that he had to pass entrance exams to qualify for admission to the prestigious universities. He spent two years doing so and during that time, he read extensively about western philosophy. Tange also enrolled in the film division at Nihon University’s art department to dodge Japan’s drafting of young men to its military and seldom attended classes.
In 1935 Tange began the tertiary studies he desired at University of Tokyo’s architecture department. He studied under Hideto Kishida and Shozo Uchida. Although Tange was fascinated by the photographs of Katsura villa that sat on Kishida’s desk, his work was inspired by Le Corbusier. His graduation project was a seventeen-hectare (42-acre) development set in Tokyo’s Hibiya Park.
After graduating from the university, Tange started to work as an architect at the office of Kunio Maekawa. During his employment, he travelled to Manchuria, participating in an architectural design competition for a bank, and toured Japanese-occupied Jehol on his return. When the Second World War started, he left Maekawa to rejoin the University of Tokyo as a postgraduate student. He developed an interest in urban design, and referencing only the resources available in the university library, he embarked on a study of Greek and Roman marketplaces. In 1942, Tange entered a competition for the design of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere Memorial Hall. He was awarded first prize for a design that would have been situated at the base of Mount Fuji; the hall he conceived was a fusion of Shinto shrine architecture and the plaza on Capitoline Hill in Rome. The design was not realised.
In 1946, Tange became an assistant professor at the university and opened Tange Laboratory. In 1963, he was promoted to professor of the Department of Urban Engineering. His students included Sachio Otani, Kisho Kurokawa, Arata Isozaki, Hajime Yatsuka and Fumihiko Maki.