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Japan: Architect bloggers stand against redevelopment plan

One of the most prominent modern architectural works in Japan is facing possible demolition. Japan Post, privatized last October, announced last year its plan to build a 200m building in place of the current structure, and part of the plan is scheduled to be carried out as early as May.

The Tokyo Central Post Office building was designed by Yoshida Tetsuro, a Japanese modern architect who also designed other buildings commissioned by the Ministry of Communications, and was completed in 1931. The building is listed by DoCoMoMo International as one of the 20 outstanding modern architectural works in Japan. With the old Marunouchi Building (Blog Subarashiki shinsekai[jp] has a series of photos of the building), Sanshin Building (Tokyo Lost Architecture has photos ) and others already swept by a wave of mega-redevelopment in the area adjacent to Tokyo Station, the Post Office building is one the last few historical buildings which remain standing today. (Tokyo Lost Architecture [jp] has been documenting pictures of the buildings that were torn down.)

Tokyo Central Office
Tokyo Central Post Office building (Photo by Flickr user osmatsuda) CC-BY-NC

The redevelopment plan has faced opposition from architects as well as Diet members and citizen groups who are demanding that the building designated an Important Cultural Property. Concerned bloggers have been expressing their concern and calling for preservation of the historical building.

Blogger schinkel has posted pictures of the Post Office building and writes that Japanese people will regret the loss of their cultural heritage one day in the future

言わずと知れた近代モダニズム建築を代表する作品。
しかしネットが張られており解体待ちといった風情だ。この国の文化的精神的貧困と洞察力の無さを象徴する光景と言える。
現代の東京の超高層ビルは1930年代における東京中央郵便局程には東アジア地域で傑出した建築ではない。いつの日か政治的にも経済的にも完全に周辺諸国の後塵を拝したときに初めて、語るべきかつての栄光ある歴史の残滓はほとんど何も残っていないことの悲哀が身にしみるのだろう。

Needless to say, this is work that represents modernist architecture.
But covered with nets, from its appearance the building looks like it is waiting to be demolished. This is a sight that symbolizes the poverty of cultural spirit and lack of perceptiveness in this country.
The skyscrapers in Tokyo today are not the preeminent East Asian architecture that the Tokyo Central Post Office was in the 1930s. It will only be one day in the future, when Japan has fallen behind its neighboring countries politically and economically, that the sadness will hit us, seeing that there is almost nothing left that is reminiscent of this country's glorious history.

Blogger and graphics designer solidThinking discusses the architectural value of the Post Office building and reflects on their experience from a trip to Amsterdam:

日本人は、どうもこうして文化遺産をいとも簡単に壊してしまうのでしょうかか? 一度壊された物は元に戻りません。
これら二つの郵便局は、日本の伝統の柱と梁というシンプルな形状を近代建築=モダンスタイル に応用したもので、西洋建築を模倣した、建築物と一線を画します。  これらの設計は、日本と深い関係がある、アントニン レイモンドや、ブルーノ タウトが賞賛したデザインです。 …

Why do Japanese people so readily destroy cultural heritage like this? What is destroyed never comes back.
In these two post offices, the traditional Japanese simple structure called post-and-beam is applied to modern architecture/modern style, and they are thus clearly different from buildings that emulated western architecture. These designs have strong connection with Japan, and were praised by Antonín Raymond and Bruno Taut.[…]

アムステルダムでは、ファサードを残し、中身を改造する建築方法と採用しています。 私が訪れた時にも、運河沿いに銀行が作られていましたが、本当に皮一つ(ファサード)のみを残して後は、全部新築です。 昔の町並みを残そうとするその試みは、民族性=オリジナリティを残す事です。

In Amsterdam, they use a building method in which they leave the facades and renovate the inside. When I visited Amsterdam, they were building a bank along the canal, leaving only the facade and building everything else from scratch. The effort to preserve old cityscapes is an effort that also preserves national traits and originality.

Architect-blogger kurarc archiscape further describes the historical background of the building:

東京中央郵便局は建築家吉田鉄郎の設計による。郵政事業が民営化されたこともありこの建築物のある部分(またはすべて)を壊し、高層化しようという方向性が打ち出されている。その方向に異議をとなえようという会である。

The Tokyo Central Post Office was designed by architect Yoshida Tetsuro. As operations of postal services have been privatized, there has been a plan to demolish parts of the building (or all of it) and build a high-rise building. This is a group that opposes the plan.

この建築が建設された当時、ブルーノ・タウトがこの建築物を見学している。残されたタウトの日記によると、1933年の5月28日にタウトは建築家吉田鉄郎、山田守、谷口吉郎とこの建築を見学している。タウトはこの建築を「非常にすぐれている・・・・同氏(吉田)の建築は極めて即物的だ」として、吉田鉄郎を「最高の力量を具えた建築家」として絶賛している。

Bruno Taut saw this building at the time that it was built. According to the diary he left, on May 28, 1933, Taut toured the building with architects Yoshida Tetsuro, Yamada Mamoru, and Taniguchi Yoshiro. He described the architecture as “exceptional,” said that “his (Yoshida's) achitecture is extremely utilitarian” and praised Yoshida Tetsuro as “an architect of the highest caliber”.

Arichitect Koichiro Kanematsu of Hibi from an architect, one of the active organizers of an advocacy group, calls his readers for help:

そして、東京中央郵便局。
郵政の中に昨年来「歴史検討委員会」(非公開)が設置されて審議されてきたが、このままだとほんの一部を貼り付けて高層化し、民意を受けて保存したのだといわれかねない。思い余って、危機感を持つ多くの人と共に「東京中央郵便局を重要文化財にする会」を設立することになった。
時間がない。[…]

And the Tokyo Central Post Office.
Last year, “the committee on Historical reviews”(not open to the public) was established within the Postal Service, and this was put on the table. However, if nothing is done, [the building] will be made into a high-rise with only parts [of the old building] attached, and they will claim that they preserved it in accordance with the will of the people. Not knowing what to do, with many others who have a sense of crisis, we decided to launch “The association to make the Central Post Office an important cultural property”.
We do not have time. […]

このブログを読んでくださる方々にお願いしたい。ぜひ発起人に名前を連ねていただきたいのです。恐縮ですが、ブログにリンクさせている僕のHPの「イベント情報」欄を、ぜひ開いてください。たってのお願いです。

I would like to ask those of you who are reading this blog to join the list of organizers. I would very much appreciate it if you could go to the event section of my website, which is linked to from this blog. This is my urgent request.

Another architect-blogger Nozawa Masamitsu writes that the formation of the group is an unprecedented movement:

「中央郵便局を重文にする会」は事態の急な動きを受け、100人を超える発起人を集めて動きがしたという形のようだ。市民の参加が力強い。国会議員による動きもあり、党派を超えた20人を超える議員による「会」できているとのことであった。今までに無い動きではないか。
吉田鉄郎という稀有な建築家について考える機会ともなろう。原状を極力回復し保存活用を望む。私は先日ウイーンでワグナーの郵便貯金局が活用されながらミュージアムとなっているのを見てきたばかりだ。彼此の差を考えざるを得ない。

“The association to make the Central Post Office an important cultural property” was formed when over 100 organizers gathered in response to sudden developments in the situation. There is power in citizen participation. I think this will be a chance to think about this extraordinary architect Yoshida Tetsuro. I hope [that the building will be] recovered as much as possible, preserved and made use of. I just saw Wagner's Post Office Savings Bank in Vienna the other day being used as a museum. I can't help thinking about these differences.

1 comment

  • Taro

    The updated design I’ve seen looks good where it maintains the former structure and adds a nice 200 meter skyscraper on top. Am impressed with Japanese architetural design.
    I don’t have a problem with it and at least they seem to
    plan on preserving the bottom portion of the post office building and the famous clock on its facade.
    Marunouchi is looking quite nice.

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