In February, it was announced that Kenzo Tange’s Kagawa Prefectural Gymnasium in Takamatsu will be demolished. Tange designed the structure in 1964. The structure had hosted local sporting events for 50 years before it closed in 2014 due to a leaky roof. The issue, according to the World Monuments Fund (WMF), “was caused by the rusting of the suspension cables, which need to be replaced for the building to remain in use.” Further improvements were required to strengthen the building against earthquakes. An estimate for the fixes totaled nearly $15 million in American currency, and the local government of the prefecture, located on Shikoku Island in southern Japan, stated it would tear down the building.
The gym’s design is defined by two massive, floating concrete beams, perhaps meant to evoke a Japanese barge, that are supported by four columns. The long-span roof was created with cables, and the doubly curved surface clad in precast concrete tiles about 2 inches thick. Circular windows perforate the curving supporting beams, and a large scupper evacuates water from the roof into an open reflecting pool. Its interiors were designed by Isamu Kenmochi.
The building’s structural issues were first addressed in a 2012 study. At that point, the main hall was closed. After the full closure of the remaining training facilities two years later, the building was placed on WMF’s 2018 World Monuments Watch. In June 2018, it received funding from the organization to support its preservation. In 2019, the WMF “launched a project in 2019 to build capacity and foster community stewardship in the campaign against the site’s demolition.” Japanese architect Noriyuki Kawanishi helped to lead a petition to maintain the building.
World-Architects reported that the prefecture will spend about $350,000 to conduct research about safely demolishing the building. The government, which owns the gymnasium, works from an office complex in the area, also designed by Tange.
The anticipated demolition of the work by Tange is part of a larger trend of removing notable works of postwar architecture in Japan. As AN reported last year, the Nakagin Capsule Tower by Kisho Kurokawa, was carefully deconstructed. Over the past twenty-five years, works like Toyo Ito’s U House, Kiyonori Kikutake’s Hotel Sofitel Tokyo, and Tange’s Grand Prince Hotel Akasada have also been lost. Writing in World-Architects, Ulf Meyer acknowledged a different cultural sense of the permanence of buildings in Japan—they are more like “events rather than objects,” he offered—while also lamenting these losses. “DoCoMoMo Japan can protest as much as they want, but without a functioning preservation body for postwar buildings, one beautiful and precious building after the other will be knocked down,” he claimed.
Other works by Tange continue to be threatened with the wrecking ball. His Dentsu Tsukiji Building, realized in 1961, is slated for demolition, and his Kuwait Embassy, finished in 1970, will be “demolished and rebuilt.” Already Tange’s Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, finished in 1957, was razed in 1992, though the architect also designed its successor, a twin-spired tower meant to resemble a computer chip.
In Takamatsu, the gym’s fate was also in part brought on by the local government’s commssioning of a new sports facility on another site. The commission was awarded to SANAA. The architects’ scheme includes two linked, bubble-like roofs that cover a larger arena and a smaller one. The long-span structures appear to built in compression using dimensional members rather than in tension using cables. Two domes by SANAA, it seems, were preferable to one dome by Tange. Construction is expected to be complete next year.