A Brutalist with a Heart: Surveying the Work of Kenzo Tange


Pritzker Prize-winning architect Kenzo Tange would have been 99 years old today. One of the most significant architects of the 20th century, his work combined traditional Japanese design principles with modern advancements in technology and materials to meet the social needs of a country devastated by World War II.

In Kenzo Tange: 20th Century Masters, Paolo Riani wrote that in Tokyo “there were not even the mountains of rubble of German towns; the wooden structures had gone up in flames and smoke.” It makes perfect sense then that Tange turned to the béton brut, or raw concrete, that defined the new Brutalist movement. The style was often criticized for being cold and oppressive, but Tange’s interpretations were different from the totalitarian aesthetic that gave the severe offshoot of modernism a bad rap. Hoping to erase the memory of mankind’s darkest hour, his creations ushered in a new Japan. Summing up his intentions, Tange said “there is a powerful need for symbolism, and that means the architecture must have something that appeals to the human heart.”

To honor one of the greatest architects of our time, join us as we take a virtual stroll past some of his most famous designs. From the Hiroshima Peace Park that launched his career to the Yoyogi National Gymnasium for the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, click through to check out the enduring legacy of Kenzo Tange.

Tange House — Tokyo, Japan (1953)

Image credit: kureator

Using a similar skeleton structure to the project that put him on the map — the Hiroshima Peace Museum — Tange House is the most traditional structure that Tange ever designed, using paper and timber throughout. Based on the traditional Japanese module of the tatami mat, the largest rooms were made with flexibility in mind, and could be separated into three smaller rooms by fusuma sliding doors.

Hiroshima Peace Center and Memorial Park — Hiroshima, Japan (1954)

Image credit: My Architectural Moleskine; pandoro; About Japan

Dedicated to the legacy of the first city in the world to be devastated by a nuclear attack, the Peace Center and surrounding park space memorializes its more than 140,000 victims and advocates world peace. Built on an open field created by the explosion, the skeletal remains of the closest building left standing (a UNESCO World Heritage site) is the focus of Tange’s design. Framed by the park’s central cenotaph, the destruction can be seen from the Peace Center.

Imabari City Hall Complex — Imabari, Japan (1958)

Image credit: ARCHI/MAPS; Tange Associates

Designed for his hometown, this civic complex showcases Tange’s increasing skill at manipulating the expressive possibilities of exposed concrete. Fascinated by communal spaces, Tange wrote that it is the place in a city where a “citizen moves from the private realm to establish connections with society.”

Kagawa Prefectural Government Office — Kagawa, Japan (1958)

Image credit: Tange Associates

Finding the perfect balance between tradition and modernism, this is considered one of the most important work’s in architecture’s history and has served as a model for government buildings since WWII.

Kurashiki City Art Museum — Kurashiki, Japan (1960)

Image credit: Daniel Markiewicz

Formerly Kurashiki City Hall, the building was turned into an art museum in 1983.

St. Mary Cathedral — Tokyo, Japan (1964)

Image credit: openbuildings; social8agency

As Archdaily wrote, “there are some buildings that do not belong to any time or age. The Saint Mary Cathedral of Tokyo by Kenzo Tange is definitely one of these.” Replacing the Gothic wooden cathedral that burnt down during the war, the elegant concrete building draws inspiration from the lightness of a bird, and its wings. Nothing short of brilliant, right?

Yoyogi National Gymnasium — Tokyo, Japan (1964)

Image credit: Colombia University

Right on the heels of St. Mary’s Cathedral, Tange completed the national stadium for the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. At the time, it boasted the largest suspension roof in the world. The simple elegance inspired Frei Otto’s design for the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich.

Yamanashi Press and Broadcasting Center — Kofu, Japan (1966)

Image credit: Shinkenchiku-sha via arttattler

Designed for three media companies, the building anticipated expansion and growth by leaving space between clusters of functional space.

Shizuoka Press and Broadcasting Offices — Tokyo, Japan (1967)

Image credit: Dowen

Fascinated by the architectural history of Japan in the ’60s and ’70s, Dutch starchitect Rem Koolhaas cites this progressive design as an inspiration.

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building or Tochō — Tokyo, Japan (1991)

Image credit: archINFORM

Costing close to $1 billion, Tochō was the tallest building in Tokyo until 2006. Meant to resemble a computer chip, there are many symbolic touches, including a modern interpretation of a Gothic cathedrals split towers.

Fun fact: Tochō makes a cartoon cameo when the Simpsons visit Tokyo in the 23rd episode of the 10th season, “Thirty Minutes over Tokyo.”

Fuji Television Headquarters — Tokyo, Japan (1997)

Image credit: Joshua Lieberman

We have but one word: Wow.