The city of Kobe is a melange of contemporary and modern structures that emerged post the Great Hanshin earthquake which the city was struck by in 1995, and the ancient structures of Edo, Taisho, and Meiji period of Japanese history. With mountain ranges on one side and Osaka Bay on the other, its structures reflect and respond to the rich context they are cited in. Being an active port city until 1995, the establishment of prominent structures and housing typologies are a consequence of the trade, visitors, and the port’s significance.
1. Akashi Kaikyo bridge
Construction: 1988 – 1998
Linking the Kobe city to the Awaji Island, the Akashi Kaikyo bridge spans over a length of 3911 meters altogether becoming the world’s longest suspension bridge. Though located in a seismically active zone, the exemplary design and structural quality facilitate the bridge to withstand the trembles. It incorporates a six-lane road and observatory walkways known as Maiko Marine Promenade overlooking the Akashi Strait and Osaka bay along with providing insights of the bridge’s interior. The bridge also accommodates a café, lounge, a log bridge. A Bridge Exhibition Centre explicates the construction process of the bridge and details of the suspension bridges throughout the world, at the Kobe side end of the bridge. Also known as the ‘Pearl Bridge’, the bridge illuminates from twilight up to midnight in various patterns determined by the season.
2. The Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art
This modern structure was designed by architect Tadao Ando, as a cultural establishment after the city was struck by an earthquake in 1995. Along with the exhibits and galleries, the structure itself becomes an epitome of integrity and a sight to behold owing to its intrigue spatial disposition. The central spiral staircase connecting to the outdoor space makes an appealing attribute to the design, creating an interplay within the lighting, visual connection, and character of an indoor and outdoor setting. The structure altogether expresses an ‘ascend’ through its composite staircase linking the indoor spaces throughout and the large outdoor staircase along the seaside.
3. Ikuta Shrine
Construction: 3rd century
Sited amidst a vibrant and busy street, the Ikuta Shrine is one of the ancient shrines of Japan. The entrance to the shrine is marked by the Torii gates, followed by the tower gate and Kominu (guardian statues), one finally reaches the shrine, a typical Shinto shrine signified by wooden posts at the front, bright red color façade and sloping gabled roofs.
The latest incorporation to the right side of the shrine was the Inari shrine complemented by several torii gates and a concrete sloping wall by the Takenaka group.
4. Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake memorial museum
The complex comprises two museums that commemorate the 1995 earthquake which struck Kobe and it’s victims, incorporating exhibits, theatres and workshops and corridors reconstructed as the devastated streets giving an insight of the dreadful experience. From outside, the museum looks incomprehensible and one entity, however inside, the museum is an amalgamation of open and closed spaces overlooking each other creating a symbiotic environment.
5. Rokko shidare observatory
Designed by architect Hiroshi Sanbuchi, the observatory is a manifestation of a tree on the summit of Mt. Rokko. It offers a sight of the Kobe city skyline along with an experience of nature which the mountain provides. The dome created by the mesh of hexagonal pattern indicating the tree foliage provides partial shade while the central wooden stem assists air mobilization for the interior along with illumination.
A spiraling entrance leads to the wind room at the center consisting of circular seating. At dusk, the observatory illuminates in four varying colors following the season. When looked at from a distance, the observatory and the trails leading to it harmonizes with the vicinity.
6. Meriken Park
A waterfront park along Kobe’s port area, the Meriken Park features Kobe Maritime Museum, Port Tower, a memorial to commemorate the victims of the Great Hanshin earthquake and several other sculptures and artworks.
The Maritime Museum with its white steel trellis roof appears as a sailing ship. It comprises the entrance hall, galleries, exhibition areas and museums positioned on different floors of the structure.
The 108 meters high Port Tower resembles the tsuzumi (hourglass-shaped traditional Japanese drum) and incorporates several observational decks providing a sight of the city along with a rotating café. The LEDs illuminate the tower at night, in various colors following the event.
The Memorial pays homage to the victims of the earthquake and preserves a section of destroyed waterfront along with outdoor display panels and exhibits.
7. Sorakuen Garden
Construction: 1885 – 1911
Sorakuen is a Japanese garden designed by architect Alexander Hansell characterized by a man-made waterfall and central pond, stone bridges, sculptured gardens, and meandering pathways. Besides the garden, the varying architectural interventions into the site also contributes in the significance of the park; the front gate of zelkova wood and roof tiles, a stable with a blend of brick and stone masonry with wooden roofing, house dating back to 1902 and an Edo – period houseboat at the center.
Dating back to the Meiji period and Taisho period of Japanese history, the Kitano-chō district of Kobe features around 20 western-influenced residences built for the foreigners who visited the port in the 1870s. The vibrant colored facades, bay windows, and plaza amidst the locality differentiate it from the rest of the city. The interior reflects a European ambiance with wooden furniture, paintings, and sculptures, and striking colors. In the present day, these residences have been converted into museums and provide an insight into the housing typologies and lifestyles of the inhabitants.
9. Mayazan Tenjō-ji Temple
Situated on Mt. Maya, this is a Shingon Buddhist temple accompanied by sculptures and stones within its complex. The stone plinth and posts of the temple carry a large gently curved wooden roof while the walls are porous and made out of wood. The minimal intervened Japanese stone garden harmonizes with the temple and the surrounding creating a serene environment.
10. Hakogi Sennenya House
The oldest private residence in Japan, dates back to the 1300s, during the Muromachi period. The materials used in its construction are wood, timber, straws, and thatch while stones have been used for the plinth and the compound wall. The two perpendicular blocks of housing create a small courtyard in between, opening itself up to the semi-open indoor space. In the interior, one could find the tools for farming and wooden platforms to keep the utensils. The elevated floor and the seemingly huge thatched roof are a response to the heavy rainfalls.
11. Arima Onsen
The oldest hot spring in Japan, Arima Onsen runs down along the narrow streets of the city complemented by shrines, temples, museums, the Edo-period wooden houses, and nature. The cobblestone pathways and serpentine course of water reflect the predominance of non-linearity in the Japanese landscaping during that era with wood being the primary material in all the constructions.
12. Kobe Fashion Museum
Unconventional in its form, the Kobe Fashion Museum has a shape resembling a spaceship in the front, a cylindrical mass at the rear end, and the rest being cuboidal with all the masses being of contrasting material. However, from inside, it is a single entity divided into levels having spaces designated for various functions such as the museum, library, hall, entrance foyer, and research center. The elevated plinth further results in creating an effect of a floating spaceship making the structure predominant and distinctive in contrast to its vicinity.
13. Suma Rikyu Park
The Park consists of a botanical garden, a Japanese garden, picnic area, restaurant, athletic pathway, playground, and essentially a wide range of species of trees. The European style garden comprises a central liner pathway supplemented by fountains amidst and trees at the periphery, leading to the elevated arched structure. However, the Japanese garden is completely in contrast with meandering pathways with autumn trees, plum blossoms, and Japanese irises inducing an experience as per the season.
14. Koiso Memorial Museum of Art
The gallery exhibits the individual work of artistRyohei Koiso. The two masses consist of exhibition galleries, most of them being underground and the central courtyard consists of the atelier used by him for forty years. The central corridors are illuminated and harmonized with the adjoining open courtyards. Due to the higher water levels in monsoon, sloping roofs and elevated plinth are incorporated in the design.
15. Goshikizuka Mounded Tomb
Construction: 4th century
It is a burial tomb covered by fukiishi (stones from the riverbeds) at the sides while the top being flat. The pathway and the top of the dome are supplemented by cylindrical terracotta clay models alongside the periphery. The concrete staircase leads to the top, while on the opposite side one could have a sight of the Bay area and the Akashi Kaikyo bridge.