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  • Rethinking the Social Role of Architecture in the Ideas and Work of the Japanese Architectural Group NAU
  • Kuroishi Izumi (bio)

Japanese architectural historians tend to be wary of political discussion. One repercussion of this aversion is the insufficient attention paid to the ideas and projects of Japan's architects (as well as the country's output within urban studies and design) in the period immediately following World War Two. Upon closer examination, the issues and activities undertaken in this period reveal the complex political perspective of postwar architects toward prewar ideas, institutional and social systems, as well as historical frameworks and approaches to design theories. For instance, in a special issue of the journal Shinkenchiku (New Architecture) published in August 1955 titled "For a New Progress," the editors, among them the architectural critic Kawazoe Noboru, suggests that the architectural and social issues in the ten years following World War Two are closely linked.1 Via a new architectural movement, in the short period between the pre- and immediate postwar period, architects and scholars aimed to reposition themselves and their ideologies from socio-political perspectives.

This study aims to investigate the changing nature of the issues that Japanese architecture groups focused on during the postwar period and discuss the challenges they faced during this time, examining the objectives around which groups were formed. The New Architects' Union of Japan (NAU, Shin Nihon Kenchikuka Shūdan), formed in June 1947, has been recognized as the first body to successfully unify major architectural organizations across Japan; it has also been recognized for its key role in the development of discussions relating to the social role of architecture among architects, scholars, and members of construction industries and public institutions. This paper will analyze how members of NAU developed their ideas and discourse on the social role of architecture, and the way in which these ideas were informed by social context, as NAU shifted conceptually during its active period between 1947 and 1951 to focus on the ideas of modernism, humanism, and functionalism. [End Page 99]

In order to reexamine urban and architectural issues from a socio-political viewpoint, it is first necessary to clarify the meaning and sequence of the modernist architectural movements from the prewar to the postwar period. Between the years of 1945 and 1955, Japan saw the formation of many architectural groups and the proliferation of discussions on issues related to architecture. The enthusiasm with which architects worked to create a new Japanese architectural community was palpable. The architecture historian Miyauchi Kō, who has examined Japanese architectural movements of the postwar period through the 1950s, explains how architects' conception of society shifted during this period:

The nature of postwar architectural movements is symbolically reflected in the shift in the concept of human being from "the people" (jinmin) to "the masses" (minshū) and "man" (ningen). The names for social groups of people used in each period—"the people" between 1945 and 1950, "the masses" between 1951 and 1957, and "the man" after 1957—represent the architects' image of people and identifies their attitude toward society and the arena of their activities in each period. That is, it can naturally be inferred that "the people" corresponds to the theory of class struggle, "the masses" to the theory of mass society and ethnic conflict theory, and "man" to civilization theory; furthermore, it is clear that these concepts relate to the arenas of housing, public building, and the city, respectively. Japanese architects have not only reacted to shifts in social ideas but have also created concepts experientially in response to expansions in the domain of concrete activity. Moreover, we should pay attention to the fact that authentic "architectural movements" ended literally in Japan when the concept of "the mass" was abandoned. While it could be argued that in the prewar and postwar periods Japanese architectural movements developed in the context of the confrontation and compromise between modernism and Marxism, the decisive end of the architectural movement was foretold in the final compromise of these two ideologies when architects adopted the ambiguous idea of "mass."2

As Miyauchi describes, the terminology architects employed and their projects clearly reflect their interpretations of society in the postwar period...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2329-9770
Print ISSN
0913-4700
Pages
pp. 99-117
Launched on MUSE
2017-08-24
Open Access
No
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