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Architecture as a container

Is architecture merely the shape of form that contains the function? According to Aldo Rossi’s book, Architecture of the city, he argued that the architecture means that the form does not exist to be formed but contains sophisticated meaning of city in several aspects. The remembrance and reminiscence of certain community and humanistic trace remained is smudged into a specific city. Therefore, the genuine beauty of city is coming from the form which has been developed in both space and time and coming from the characteristics as works of art. In the light of this, form is formed based on the context of city and they are different but can never be separated.

Architecture is the field of study that requires the indivisibleness relationship between theory and practice. Aldo Rossi affects crucially on the division of stream in Modernism and Post Modernism by suggesting the theoretical evidence of the reason about what Modern architecture is missing. The terminology that he used in the book ‘gigantic man-made object’ as substitute of ‘architecture’ embraces plaza, streets and certain city district of the city. So to speak, architecture are various components of city and this is why the condition of the city influences on the architecture to be formed. His precise theory is mostly supported by historical traces which makes them even more persuasive. City is the accumulation of old days that people experimented and modified throughout the past. No one would dare to say that investigating the previous history of city is not enough objective and scientific support in terms of proposing the idea of future direction of city. His city-oriented and history-oriented attitude totally denied the deception of Modernism which is addicted to utopian delusionary belief that architecture can be complete and architecture should be novelty. Besides, it sharply criticized the functionalism which is the core concept of Modernism which is the argument that the beauty is coming from the purity of function that means the form should have minimum role regarding using and understanding architecture. Functionalism treated in Modernism is as follow, ‘Form follows function’, said by Luis H. Sullivan.

“First, the city is seen as a gigantic man-made object, a work of engineering and architecture that is large and complex and growing over time; second, certain more limited but still crucial aspects of the city, namely urban artifacts, which like the city itself are characterized by their own history and thus by their own form.” As this is mentioned by Aldo Rossi’s book, ‘The Architecture of the City’, the city has memory and reminiscences. Rossi’s theory is deeply related to the process of realization that architecture as a container which boxes up the history of a certain city and human beings. The city meant by him’ is persuasive idea that all of object, architecture, is composed in the city which is their background so they are formed by time and space. The history and culture are one of the components of the city and based on them, the background is interpreted by people based on their experience and thoughts. The careful understanding of this complex combination is crucial to figure out both city and architecture in the same context. So to speak, each individual building is a crystalline that involves the trace of culture and history of city. Therefore, the ‘shape’ is one of the fundamental aspect of architecture in terms of satisfying the logical principle which is ‘type’. Take few examples as supportive grounds, Shrine and temple are all different religious architecture but they are the same logical place characteristically, typologically when they are aimed to be the sacred space. In the light of this, ‘type’ is unchangeable essence, cultural and historical accumulation.

The concept of Isejingu Shrines means along with the argument of Aldo Rossi’s theory. This Shrine located in Japan is dedicated to the goddess, Amaterasomikami(天照大御神 ) and other gods of weather and objects. The biggest feature of this Shrine is that it is deconstructed every 20 years with constructing the clone Shrine enshrines the same goddess and gods within their territory. This activity called ‘Sikinensentgu’(式年遷宮 is building Shrine with the oldest Japanese style of architecture which only sustains 20 years. From 1993 until 2018, there have been 61 times of construction. What is the most interesting part of this architecture is that their ritual context of building. For enshrining goddess, the thing that they need was literally a container. Although they build clone Shrine, the physical history of building itself, the timber twisted due to humidity by time and space, ivy plants wrapping around columns as times goes by, color changes and burnt ceiling by virtue of candle light, is minor emotional components can be easily deconstructed and newly built and this is hugely different walk of building compare to other European architecture where people try their best to keep its’ initial shape and appearance. This is because for them, looking closely at ‘ritual, memory of city’ comes before the fancy useless ornamentation on the surface of the Shrine building. Therefore, Shrine shows how important historical, religious and artistic ‘value’ are in Japanese culture and this container, architecture, which encloses their intangible assets is played crucial role in terms of being not themselves but existing as ‘container’ for working together with the asset not merely a shell.

There are memory and reminiscence and every single city and they have their own remembrance. It must be significant question that how this invisible values are transferred as space and architecture. If there is someone answers this question with translating these virtues with solely using cutting-edge techniques, it might be able to be a risky solution. Advanced technology is amazing and great but when it is implicated without complete understanding of the city context and humanistic approach, this leads city to be simply a thoughtless gadget. High technology dominated city cannot help turning over their throne to next generating city. Moreover, it is easily discouraged by other external pressure such as economic issues. However, the city contain the history is not disappearing for the sake of leaving their glory to next generation but they co-exist because they are not separated past and present but growing together. While the memory of people and city is transferring to the form of architecture, city itself finds out its identity and humans get back their ego. However, the conclusion of over-dependent on new technology and material is shown in the case of Metabolism led by young Japanese architects.

Metabolism architecture is the concept of Mega-structure that the co-function of few different buildings of the city and the metaphor of biological metabolism which is derived from Japan. The first appearance of this theory revealed from CIAM conference in 1959 by Kenjo Tange. After one year, 1960, Kiyonori Kikutake, Kiso Kurokawa, Fumihiko Mati and young architects announced about Metabolism during preparing Tokyo World Design Conference. Their idea influenced by Marxism and biological metabolism system came to the center of controversy. The theory reflected the situation at the moment of Japan which is burnt and destroyed city after War and tried to rebuild in short order. CIAM is the organization of architects appeared in 1928 which tries to develop architecture from Modernism to internationalism. The very first ideas are Function, Habitation, Labor and Transport and Revitalization used as their basement philosophy. After the Second World War, young architects realized that they are losing Avant-garde means of thinking and try to enlighten people by forming Team 10. They are organized with Jacob Bakema, Aldo van Eyck, Giancarlo de Carlo, Georg candilis, Alison and Peter Smithson and Sandra Wood. They introduced utopian belief, humankind cluster and liquidity concept, for reflecting these ideas on urban planning eventually, which also led them to be divided ironically. Kenzo Tange has been affected by them and grew his own theory with his young disciples. He offered that artificial roof covering entire city and slotted and plugged by housing and urban elemental units into its roof structure allows Meta-City to be organized. The column sculpture supporting this Big roof, Tower of Sun(太陽の塔 ), is made by Modernism artist, Okamoto Daro.

Tokyo in the 1960s developed to colossal city holding 200,0000 residents all of a sudden. Explosive population and urbanization occurred many sever problems, traffic, air pollution, lack of residential area and ground subsidence. Japanese government pushed forward fundamental city remodel policy and at the moment Japan was in a prosperous condition in economy by showing 10% of economic growth by year. Numerous senior, junior architects was intrigued by this abundant funding and jumped into this remodeling and proposed grand Tokyo-futuristic City project which has decisive effect on the flow of Modern architecture in Japan. Projects are covering the range of mechanical urban elements, city district, transport system and organic elements, human being, tied together with the notion of Metabolism. One of the disciples of Kenzo Tange, Kikutake Kiyonori suggested ‘Tower shaped City’ which is basically started from the idea of ‘Ise Shrine’. However, instead of referring to the fundamental principle and function of the Shrine, what they paid attention is the simple mechanism of Shrine. His suggestion is the 300meter-height tower includes all infrastructure, transport and housing assembly required in the city and the vertical steel column which is able to be slotted in by the self-assembly housings. This tower has image of ‘virtual ground. Kikutake argued that every 15 years one module of capsule housing can be shifted and they grow as like as tree. According to Kikutake, for dealing with the lack of land in Japan, the solution they took off from their traditional architecture is reborn and development from its origin. The manifesto of Metabolism, ‘Metabolism: The proposals for New Urbanism’ announced that “Metabolism is the name of the group, in which each member proposes further designs of our coming world through his concrete designs and illustrations. We regard human society as a vital process - a continuous development from atom to nebula. The reason why we use such a biological word, metabolism, is that we believe design and technology should be a denotation of human society. We are not going to accept metabolism as a natural process, but try to encourage active metabolic development of our society through our proposals.”

There are some people who hold the point of view that form does not need to be changed since function changes itself throughout the years but Metabolist claimed that the form should change as the technology develops and is newly invented. It deserves the compliment that Metabolist showed people the root of the present high-tech architecture but their failure in regard of realizing Metabolic architecture left regrets. In the 1970, Metabolism begun to collapse due to the Oil shock. They depended overly on optimistic technology and lack of capital cannot afford to sponsoring them to explore such money and time consuming project. The belief is only realized when there is astronomical figure of funding letting them gain cutting-edge technology which allows their fantasied ideology to make sense. It is still controversial whether they are practical architects or optimistic romanticist simply appreciating on the development of technology. There is possibility that their future has been expected when they missed considering the unique characteristic of city context as important factor of their theory. People are lack of patience to wait until the technology make their utopia happen and capsule is not wide enough to contain complex urban history and culture and human being and city are not robotic enough to be slotted into the huge steel column as a capsule.

City had never been disappeared and reborn. They have been stayed over thousand and more years and people visited and left and building built and deconstructed. While several decades of time there have been protest, festival and war on the earth, the country and the city. If now there are protest happening near the neighbors, it is apparently not the first time appeared in the area. However, if there are no evidence or trace, whoever know the truth? What people see is always their first in the mind without records. This is one of the way how people lost their history. Architecture as a container, it is significant to remember this history and stream of memories of each individual resident. Otherwise, people start thinking the protest happening now right in front of their face is the first attempt citizen made for fighting and arguing for their belief which is not truth and losing the primary identity of site. City has memories and architecture is components of city so there is no doubt on the fact that architecture should contain the story of the people in the shape of political, social and cultural situation of each city.

“The idea of separated parts links the possibility of an absolute architecture to the idea of the archipelago as a form for the city. The concept of the archipelago describes a condition where parts are separated yet united by the common ground of their juxtaposition. In contrast to the integrative apparatus of urbanization, the archipelago envisions the city as the agonistic struggle of parts whose forms are finite and yet, by virtue of their finiteness, are in constant relationship both with each other and with the ‘sea’ that frames and delimits them.” is mentioned by Pier Vittorio Aureli, The possibility of an absolute Architecture. The idea of the island, the architectonic archipelago within the sea of urbanization is brilliant. His exploration about each cities and their different approach in historic, cultural, and finally political developments are given by different narratives based on their own background. Additional elements such as political and formal architecture make it more objectified and well considered while Rossi is given comments that his architectural words are more likely to be personal interpretation missing some of the other aspect of society of City, politic and so forth. Archipelagos and island as an architectural shape opposed to imaginary expansion or capitalist city. So to declare, opening the possibility that archipelago could be debated in several more different ways gives the theory more persuasiveness.

If the idea of architecture that it contains streets, transport and city districted was the basement logic, Aureli’ book gives more dimension on container architecture when it suggests collective space (agora) and economic space. He thought the city as a democratic and agonistic territory which is literally the field that architecture appears as settlement of his theoretical area with having the numerous points of each studies. They are the economy, politics, and community. Therefore, architecture is container that box up these ideas. It is interesting how architecture get more and more richer with added layers of thoughts. Architecture is complex and sophisticated but this characteristic allows architect to explore as deep as they want and develop in different range of fields. It means they have countless and enormous potential. Building, the container, can include infinite meaning of city and human. When it comes to the point of view mentioned above, it is important to decide what is good design for building and which factors can be considered. The fact that city is consist of architecture makes it impossible for architects to design based on only their aesthetical means, which, in turn, leads them to investigate what the city needs and how the architecture should be articulated to meet the requirement of city, the space of the remembrance, the memory and the reminiscence.


1. Oxford Dictionaries,, March 25, 2018

2. Aldo Rossi (1966) The Architecture of the City, The Messachusetts Institute of Technology press, March 25, 2018

3. Sungmi Lee (2004), The International Architecture through my view, Daewon-sa, March 25, 2018 4. Kurokawa Kisho, Maki Fumihiko, Ohtaka Masato, Kawazoe Noboru, Kikutake kitonori (1960), Metabolism: The proposals for New Urbanism, Bitjuto Syuppan Sha, March 25, 2018’ 5. Pier Vittorio Aureli (2011), The possibility of absolute architecture, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, March 25, 2018

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