Rem Koolhaas and Hans Ulrich Obrist are the authors of a brilliantly fresh book called Project Japan: Metabolism Talks…. The book not only discusses a fascinating subject (the Metabolist movement in Japan) but also breathes inspiration on every single page. Project Japan is a clever and beautiful book that fits effortlessly in a series of stunning Koolhaas books, like S, M, L, XL, Mutations and Content. The book reads like a reference and is obviously made by someone who has a background in film-making and is an expert in the relation between image and text.
Loaded with beautiful photos, designs, diagrams and maps, Project Japan says to be “an oral history documenting the first non-Western avant-garde movement in architecture and the last moment that architecture was a public rather than a private affair”. The book consists of interviews by Rem Koolhaas with surviving members of the Metabolist movement, but also with their mentors, collaborators, rivals, critics, proteges and families.
The book lets the reader take look into the kitchen of a true avant garde movement, which is obviously the interesting aspect of the document. It shows snap shots of the atmosphere in which people like Kisho Kurokawa and Arata Isozaki worked when they redefined Japanese architecture. Readers get to know in which bars these guys used to hang out, what poems they read and what kind of music they listened to. In that sense the book reminds of a rock band biography.
Maybe Metabolism should be considered some kind of an architectural ‘rock band. To be more specific, it was an artistic and architectural movement that emerged out of the ruins of post-war Japan. Japan had lost the war and was completely destroyed. For the designers, artists, architects and thinkers of Metabolism, this situation was not an obstacle but rather an inspiration to think and plan. Metabolism got rooted fifteen years after the war, proposing a radical make-over for Japan. The modern architecture heroes came up with new concepts for buildings and complete cities and won great influence in the architectural scene of Japan.
Metabolism, as the name implies, stands for a more flexible, temporary and dynamic approach in architecture and urbanism — an interesting perspective that has never been really adopted by the mainstream architecture and planning groups, but is more relevant than ever before.
The main question of the book is perhaps not an architectural one, but rather an art one. What is an avant garde movement? And how does such a movement emerge on what kind of societal and cultural breeding grounds? It’s hard to give a straight-forward answer to these questions, but Project Japan takes the reader on a pleasant tour. The book gives great examples of experiments and ideas the Metabolists have come up with, but also of projects and buildings that have been really built, including the infamous Nakagin Capsule Tower (see photo above). From time to time the book is hard to read for people that are not too much into architecture, but it’s still definitely something to get your hands on because of the inspiration it breathes.