Recognize, Protect Cultural Value of Modern and Contemporary Structures

Modern and contemporary buildings designed by famous architects are being demolished across the nation due to aging. Buildings with high cultural value need to be preserved and passed on to future generations.

The Nakagin Capsule Tower, a condominium building in Tokyo’s Ginza area that was considered to be an iconic work of Kisho Kurokawa, was demolished last year. The building was viewed as a symbol of the Metabolism architectural movement that originated in Japan, and was visited by tourists from abroad.

Retrofits to enhance the building’s earthquake resistance were needed to save it. Some residents campaigned for its preservation and looked for a company that would purchase the building, but no contract was concluded. The high cost involved in the retrofits is believed to have been the reason for such reluctance.

Reinforced concrete buildings constructed during the period of rapid economic growth in the 1960s and 1970s have reached the end of their statutory useful life and are facing the need for renovation or demolition. It is regrettable that buildings that had cultural value and were loved by local communities have been lost one after another.

In addition to private buildings, there has not been good progress in the preservation of public facilities either. It was decided this year that the former Kagawa Prefecture Gymnasium — known as the “Boat Gymnasium” and designed by the late Kenzo Tange — would be demolished, after eight years of debate over whether it should continue to exist. Ways to utilize the gymnasium to make up for the renovation costs reportedly could not be found.

Japanese architecture is highly regarded internationally. How can fascinating buildings be preserved? How can funds be raised for such a purpose? Wide-ranging discussions are needed.

This month, a panel of experts at the Cultural Affairs Agency released a report on such issues. The report recommended that the government compile a list of famous buildings and unique residences in various regions and publicly recognize them.

There is currently a program to designate historical buildings 50 years or older as national treasures or important cultural properties. The new program of government recognition would be a mechanism for selecting famous buildings and the like that are less than 50 years old as candidates for future cultural properties and informing the owners in advance.

The panel’s recommendations are aimed at preventing demolition by informing owners, as well as local governments and residents, that the buildings are worth preserving.

To safeguard such buildings, it is important for the central and local governments to set up discussions with the owners and carefully listen to their intentions. Then, they should explore effective ways to utilize the buildings, such as creating plans to utilize them as local landmarks.

If it is difficult to raise funds for preservation, soliciting donations online through crowdfunding might be an effective option, in addition to obtaining support from local governments and companies.

Even if buildings ultimately must be demolished due to lack of funds or other circumstances, there is also the option of using digital technology, including photographs and video, to preserve a record of such structures.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 25, 2023)