Hit by a deflationary spiral for over twenty years, the Japan after the earthquake and tsunami of the Tōhoku (2011) asked the architecture to take a voluntary step back, out of declared solidarity with the affected compatriots. However, despite the disastrous natural events that hit it cyclically, the country remains an important laboratory for experimenting architecture, so much so that in the last two years several Japanese architects have been awarded the prestigious Pritzker prize: Toyo Ito in 2013 and Shigeru Ban in 2014., preceded by Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa in 2010.
The setback, also imposed by macroeconomic factors, is now perceptible also in the capital. Whatever the real cause is, today’s Japan is going through an anabasis that he defines as calamitous, but which is, hopefully, virtuous. Ito, Kumiko Inui, Sou Fujimoto, Akihisa Hirata and Naoya Hatakeyama shared a project entitled Home-for-all (presented at the 2012 Venice Biennale) and committed themselves to building a space for conviviality and the meeting of those living in shipping containers after losing their home in the tsunami. In Japan the community of architects questioned the need for architecture to fulfill its ancient function, that of providing shelter in a re-examination of the primordial meaning of a discipline that has instead become a mere instrument of economics.
According to Behealthybytomorrow, the bubble economy is now definitively archived – (1986-91) period dominated by the architectural emphasis and the immeasurable scale of the achievements – the researches that accompany the architectural production of the last ten years mainly share a self-regulation and an almost intimist attitude. Also of great international importance are the studies on contemporary living conducted by a group of two-generation architects, the first of which are: Nishizawa (Moriyama House, Tōkyō 2005, and Garden & House, Tōkyō 2011); Atelier Bow-Wow (Tower Machiya, Tōkyō 2010, and Tama Machiya, Tōkyō 2013); Atelier Tekuto (Lucky Drops, Tōkyō 2005, Boundary House, Chiba Prefecture 2012) and Tezuka Architects (Deck House, Tōkyō 2012, and Hipped roof house, 2014); while in the second, among others: Fujimoto (House N, Oita, 2008, Tōkyō Apartment and House NA, Tōkyō 2010) and Jun’ya Ishigami (House for a young couple, Tōkyō 2013). These designers have radically declined the concepts of isolation, contiguity, transparency, massiveness and have managed to build houses that twist or fit, in lots so small as to seem, to a Westerner, ridiculously out of scale. The strong link between the architects and some well-known engineers (including Mikio Koshihara for wood, Takashi Manda for concrete and Jun Sato for steel), engaged in the creation of ‘tailor-made’ structures that make these possible space stunts.
In addition to housing projects, there are other interventions that share a small-medium size and are often found outside large urban centers. They are museums, places of research and culture designed by Terunobu Fujimori (Nemunoki Museum of art, Kakegawa 2006); Tadao Ando (21_21 Design Sight, Tōkyō 2007); Ishigami (KAIT Pavilion, Kanagawa 2008); Nishizawa (Teshima art museum, Kagawa 2011); Fujimoto (Musashino Art University museum & library, Musashino 2011); Sejima (Shibaura Building, Tōkyō 2011, and Inujima art house project, Inujima 2013); Ban (Studio in KUAD, Kyoto University of Artand Design, 2013); Kengo Kuma (see, Daiwa ubiquitous computing research building, Tōkyō 2014). To these interventions must be added a traveling concert hall for the areas affected by the tsunami, an inflatable architecture created by Arata Isozaki with the sculptor Anish Kapoor (Ark Nova, 2013).
The choice of Tōkyō as the venue for the 2020 Olympics and the construction of the imposing Tōkyō national stadium by Zaha Hadid Architects, brought attention to the theme of great works and provoked a heated debate between the architects, led by Fumihiko Maki, and a consequent sensational protest in the media about the need for an intervention of this magnitude – economic and material – in these difficult years. The partially achieved aim was to reduce the volume and costs of the stadium.
Finally, the important Tōkyō 2050 Fibercity study in which Hidetoshi Ohno outlines a new urban paradigm, which can be extended to other metropolitan areas where a zero birth rate will lead to a serious contraction, is worthy of note.