There are architects whose work defines their career, ideology, methodology, and sometimes more but very few of those have the opportunity nah the talent and vision to showcase the ideology, culture, and defining movement of a Nation.
So, was Kenzo Tange, who was not just an architect but the pillar which supported the new modern movement in Japan and helped the nation architecture get a new identity that was lost in the aftermath of WW2. Talking about St. Mary’s Cathedral of Tokyo, built along the same year as Yoyogi nation gymnasium especially for the Tokyo Olympics, both which were for the world to see, to him were not just another projects but the opportunity to express the new identity and modern vision of Japan that we see today.
Kenzo participated in an invited competition in 1961 to design a new cathedral which would replace the old gothic style wooden structure destroyed during wartime, he won the competition and completed the project in 1964 but to understand deeply about the structure let’s start from the beginning. Known for his modernism and metabolism form of architecture, whose glimpse can be easily captured in this structure when it comes to complex form or the materials used in its construction.
The concept of this structure is taken of the form of a bird with wings outstretched, this concept looked simple but to execute it was not easy especially with the form which consisted of 8 hyperbolic parabolas elements started out as walls which surrounds the rhombus plan of the cathedral and as it moves up curves as a roof to make a cross above the plan which moves on vertically on the 4 sides along the facade and is covered with glass which let the natural skylight fall on the inside and looks beautiful from the outside.
The walls which are covered from the cladding of stainless steel and galvanized aluminium held together by iron bolts give it a monochromatic appearance but changes as the last ray of sunlight fall on the shiny reflecting surface of the 40 m towering structure giving it an ethereal shimmer. And like many Roman Catholic churches has a rectangular-shaped bell tower with similar concrete façade a few meters away which complements the rhombus plan, along with a baptistery in the front acts as a transitional space for the people to access the heavenly space all integrated in a way that it looks like one single entity.
As we move inside the cathedral, we are welcomed by the huge wooden door with big open windows along the façade marking the main entrance and inside we see rough exposed concrete work which makes people feel cool, calm and composed. In the diffused light that falls inside, visitors could see the curves of the wall that revolves around them and also a straight line at the front which converges to a point above, it is not until we reach the center of the church through the alter that we can see the cross that is made in such a way that it showers light like the blessings from heaven, in contrast to dark and light, beautifully choreographed by the architect so that when people move they can sense the movement of light complementing their own.
The ground floor which has the capacity of 600 people seated and 2000 people standing and as we move towards the basement surrounded by stone blocks that are in divergence with the metallic façade of the structure, we see a small chapel with a capacity of 200 people seated and 100 standing. It also serves an important purpose as numerous services of the church takes place inside the basement, along with a body that is placed above the main entrance.
The structure also went through a restoration in 2007 under the supervision of Tange Associates as due to rainwater, the joints that held the steel façade were deteriorating over the years and the area is sensitive to strong winds and various storms. Therefore, it was necessary to fix the problem before anything serious could happen. It was decided to replace the stainless steel with some other material that is more waterproof and can continue for a longer duration of time. The roof was also changed with aluminium frame and tempered glasses for easy repair and inspection.
The structure itself holds a vital importance for the country and its culture especially to the Christian population comprising of only 1% of the countries entire population depicting the solidarity that people have for each other and communities. The structure is also very important with respect to its architect as it was the last wish of his that the cathedral to be his final resting place and his funeral to be held there which was made possible as he wished.
Kenzo Tange was not an ordinary architect. His original striking design spoke of his great admiration and enthusiasm towards architecture; and throughout his lifelong work, he not only helped in reshaping a nation but to associate an emotion that inspired generations and will continue to do so.