In the late 1950’s, influenced both by developments in contemporary architecture and the technological advances of the space race, a small group of Japanese designers began to produce works under the banner “The Metabolists.” In a post WWII Japan, where many of the cities and traditional structures had been reduced to rubble by bombs, these architects, artists, and urban planners were primarily concerned with rebuilding cities and creating housing structures.
Unlike other modern architecture, that minimized materials and detailing, the Metabolists designed cities that imagined a future of limitless resources. Their philosophy proposed that architecture should mimic the natural ability of organisms to change or mutate over time, according to necessity. Heavily influenced by modern technology, the structures often consist of individual modules plugged into larger adaptable super structures. Kurokawa’s “Nakagin Capsule Tower” is the most well-known example of Metabolist built work with interior modules, evocative of scenes from 2001’s “A Space Odyssey.” The large structures address future issues of housing and the individual nature of the modules maintains personal autonomy in increasingly crowded cities. The Metabolists developed a concept of form and function that radically deviated from the established norm in both Japan and around the world. Works like Kikutake’s “Marine City” and Kurokawa’s “Helix City” are examples of the playful ingenuity of the futurist design.
The movement itself proved to be short lived. By 1970, the group had split up and went their separate ways. While the popularity of Metabolist design waned, the movement vaulted several of its members, like Kenzo Tange and Kisho Kurokawa, to international recognition. And it introduced postmodern design to Japan.
Most of the projects proposed by The Metabolists were not meant to, and could never, be built. They were simply exercises to rethink how a society could rebuild itself on technocratic utopian ideals. At the time the structures represented a technological vision of the future.
In hindsight, fifty years after the group was founded, how do you view the Metabolist designs?