Thursday, March 12, 2009

Funky Fukuoka

by Robert Nagata Zingg and Jihad Bitar

This month two young international architects point out the quirks of Fukuoka's often funky landscape.

Fukuoka, our Manzoku City*... but is she really built to please? To love her form requires steeling yourself for some brutal knocks on the head. Architecturally, there is plenty of love to go around. Naturally, no one argues over her splendid temples, and picking on the trendy American-style shopping malls is well, just too easy. Remember, those beloved temples were once the imported Disney Lands of their day.

Maintaining more recent structures has never been a priority, and for good reason. Frankly, they could all go tomorrow. The "Big One," typhoon, economic bubble, renegade airliner or Godzilla could wipe our urban slate clean. Kobe and September 11 illustrated again just how hard they can fall, so coveting the city and its dated engineering is courting an inevitable heartbreak. Many precedents exemplify how ancient architects rolled with the punches, and bent with the times. Traditional wooden buildings if shook violently were designed to fall apart neatly, and then easily reassembled. Kyushu farm houses were laid out in groups, providing a hedged bet that at least one would survive whatever an angry God or army could throw at them. Repairing the more recent buildings results in hybrids at best, and unfortunately, more than often, nasty mutants.

Here, renovation is dubbed "renewal." And renewal means new. "New"carries a special cleansing power which often takes precedent over aesthetics. The poorly maintained structures of the recent past are purified with aseptic, introverted concrete cubes in a flash. Ise Shrine could last a thousand years, but is rebuilt every twenty. So, what happens when town planners want to soften the jinx of a former graveyard or hospital for the chronically ill? They'll anesthetize the neighborhood with pure geometry and grandiose badges like "Pure Romanesque Earther Core de Maison Vague" (for your so-called European life). Ugly, but potent. Fukuoka's buildings, however funky, are married to a modern, semi-nomadic lifestyle and have become more of an apparatus than a home. In the future our tiny capsule apaatos will be as cool consumer products as today's keitai are. So watch your head, and find solace that even if you hate it now, relax: it won't be around for long.

*Manzoku: Japanese for "satisfaction," taken from Manzoku City, a tall shiny new pleasure dome in Nakasu.

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