#koolreview 04, project japan

10 min readJul 28, 2021



The “Western” is no longer our exclusive domain.
It is the first time in 3,000 years that architecture has a non-white avant-garde. Singapore Songlines, S.M.L.XL, PG. 1013, 1044

There are several avenues to probe Project Japan as a space of inquiry. In the context of these reviews OMAMO’s investigation about the east, this work is a definitive highlight. It also limits the possibilities of Koolhaas’s inquiries on big buildings and here, big buildings of the east. Metabolism is violently visionary. Events to define the effort of a national spatial reconfiguring exercise begins with the 1960 World Design Conference in Tokyo and sings its swan song at the Osaka Expo ’70. What is more important with the publication is how Koolhaas + Obrist + Boom manage to assemble a contemporary reconstruction of this movement. #koolresearch as method gathers intelligence about an identified urban spatial phenomenon and transcribes a narrative around it. A scale between describing what is seen to framing a theory from the observed condition is found in most of Koolhaas’s writings on architecture and urbanism. The time of release of the study is a significant period for Japan since it was reeling from triple disasters of tsunami, earthquake, and reactionary nuclear power plant disaster. It reminisced the period of tabula-rasa after Japan’s defeat in the Second World War. Koolhaas cites in interviews, a future where the East is more prominent than the West and his studies are an indication of expressing that direction. Singapore is the source for Koolhaas’s hypothesis that the city as a model ‘the stamp of China’s modernisation’. 1995 is when research on Metabolism started before it formally began in 2005, a result of investigations of the making of the metropolis. The broader trajectory of most AMO research is to study grand singular visions to define the building activity of a region. Singapore had that, so did the Pearl River Delta and Metabolism as a movement. So, what is gathered? An archive of material produced by practices involved in the discussion and interviews of those who are involved, an oral history. How have they analyzed, in a way displayed, the collected information? The publication is presented as two books, or parts but in a way its three distinct interpretations of Metabolism. A textbook on the subject is its introducing pitch. #koolbooks are hyper-designed and this one by far is the agency’s most complex production. The fluorescent colours used make it only readable in sufficient light and ideally only during daytime. Even though the project pitch is an oral history, conducted over a span of six years, the archive plays a more prominent role in dealing with the topic. Narratives are both linear and non-linear. Everything structures around the interviews, thereby give each content forms a visually balanced significance. The designer’s role is paramount here in making different bits of text link and works towards directing the research to its objectives. There is a modularity of texts compiled is connected to a core, that seems to perform together on a constructed singular analysis framework. All this configuration is Irma Boom. Metabolism is a way to navigate the transitory or the impermanent in Japanese culture. It tries to project the ethos of time and space that was plagued by wars and natural disasters as an argument of Japanese modernism. By assimilating traditional architecture as temporary modular structures a newer imagination of what could be a national building practice, influenced by regional idiosyncrasies is proposed. These add to consolidating the social status of the profession of architecture, the credibility of design, and the reinvention of roles an architect plays in society. The movement as such had a large public interface in the form of exhibitions, international exchanges, magazines, manifestoes, radio, and television shows. Obrist shows up next. Known for the several conversations he has with artists about their practices, he locates the trialogues in the broader social context of its time. 1995 saw Cities on the Move in Hong Kong and 2005 was the 24-hours interviews marathon both of which gave impetus for the project to get going. Sooner Kenzo Tange passes away in 2005 pressing urgencies to not forget the work of a generation the project officially begins. The curator plays an alternate position in the discussion giving context to the content of the subjects questioned. Koolhaas on the other hand is more personal and sticks to probing the practice. Glossary as a tool of theory-making builds on concepts listed. Breaking the conversations into sections helps in reading the content better. These frames of engaging with the oral history revise access to the traditional avant-garde. If ‘the future is invented with fragments from the past’, what you get is a bunch of fragments pieced together. Even when it may not be necessary texts are broken down into abstract connected bits. Koolhaas' aims to conduct research are particularly pragmatic. Objectives that emerge for the study is, “old age requires strategy more than any other period in life”, “more crucial to exploit your limitations than to survive your gifts”, and “as memory weakens, vision is the only option”. Plan old age, strategize shortcomings and encourage grandiose visions. It still though comes out as dated. Visions of a past always seem to locate themselves as ideas of the past. Though for the discerning, it is possible to attempt a making of a Metabolist architectural prototype.

references & readings

The first retrospective of Metabolism, a movement born from the visions of architects

mapping metabolism, virtual architectural travel* on google street view

In addition to the two modes of reading the movement are the photographic essays presented as every day “captures” of Metabolism aging. This virtual list follows the 2009, ’10 trajectory by Charlie and Rem Koolhaas published as part of their research to revisit the status of selected accessible buildings of the movement. The list tries to replicate the sites mentioned. Only the ones in Japan have dedicated spreads as photographic exercises by Charlie Koolhaas. Kurokawa’s Capsule House, a private residence is difficult to find, therefore left out of this list. In its place, a study on interests in capsule architecture of the time is referenced. Two non-Japanese structures are in Saudi Arabia and Singapore. The publication snapshots by Rem gives a glimpse of its state today. Technology such as Google Street View gives an alternate way of understanding the state of the moment while looking at the positions delineated. This opportunity of virtual travel presents even those who don’t have access to the book a semblance of what to expect from the ideas of a generation. The perspectives possible alternating from maps to street level photography is particularly critical wherein select locations complete access to the structure and its neighborhood is possible. It paints a vivid picture of the status of remanets of the past in the future it imagined.

*note, the list follows a 2009, ’10 trajectory by Charlie and Rem Koolhaas to revisit the status of selected accessible built ideas of metabolism,