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Appearing Adaptable

Kenzo Tange’s metabolist icon, the Yamanashi Press and Broadcasting Building, stands tall in the low-lying valley town of Kofu, Japan. Unlike many metabolist projects that have struggled to adapt to changing twenty-first century environments, Yamanashi has aged well.  Built in 1967, the project underwent an extensive addition to accommodate the need for more space in the 1970s.  Tange’s system of sixteen cylindrical cores accepted the additional building mass so seamlessly (as originally planned) that one is hard pressed to find a single surgical scar on the project today.  Such a success makes Yamanashi a clear poster-child for the original “adaptable” tenets of the metabolist movement—out-shining the likes of Kisho Kurokawa’s famous Nakagin Capsule Tower, which today is under constant threat of being razed despite calls to enact the architect’s original metabolist system of capsule replacement.

However, the secret to Yamanashi’s success may not be the carefully considered metabolist system, which anticipated these additions, but a less fundamental aspect of the architecture that simply lets us know that change is okay. Tange’s building lifts the burden of pristine architectural preservation by appearing adaptable, rather than just being adaptable.  Unlike, the smooth surface of Nakagin’s “washing machine” capsules, which allow for only self-similar growth (only more washing machines can be added to this mix), Yamanashi has a decidedly toothy grain that welcomes any and all future architectural barnacles. The pseudo-tectonic motifs that dot the surface of the building in the form of concrete nubs (protruding concrete “beams”), as well as the actual roughness of the concrete finish, advertise a desire to accept growth in many forms. As if a sculptor working in clay, Tange scores his own building with these scratches and blemishes, anticipating a future where other similarly disturbed chunks of clay will be slapped on with a little slip in between. As a result of this intentionally “rough” craftsmanship, the secondary form of unanticipated growth that Yamanashi has acquired hangs very comfortably on the building’s exterior.  The array of oversized TV antennae and digital tickers that peppers the building’s facade seems completely at home amongst the concrete footholds of its host.

Of course, Kurokawa’s building, on the other hand, may be a victim of its own popularity.  As Nakagin and other buildings like it gain iconic status, society becomes anxious when talks of change arise. Discussions of renovation turn to talks of preservation, halting the very processes originally designed to increase longevity.  It’s clear from Yamanashi and Nakagin that ‘actual’ adaptability can only take us so far, and that we should allow ‘apparent’ adaptability to remind us that architecture isn’t sacred but meant to be added to, disrupted, and disturbed.

Daniel Markiewicz