An All-Inclusive Symbiosis
Kisho Kurokawa


Kisho Kurokawa

©Kisho Kurokawa

The Metabolism movement in the late 1950s had two major themes in mind. One is primarily concerned with continuity in time; the other with continuity in space. Continuity in time means that architecture is not something completed at any given point in time; it is amorphous, containing the potential for ongoing growth and change. Continuity in space, on the other hand, interprets architectural space not as a territory or world complete in itself but as something amorphous that interacts freely with the surrounding environment, the natural setting or urban landscape in which it is situated. In fact, these two themes - continuity in time and continuity in space - are closely associated with the legacy of Japanese tradition and Buddhist thought.


Buildings Not As Permanent Monuments

©Kisho Kurokawa

One of the first characteristics of Japanese culture is our penchant for eager absorption of anything new even while clinging steadfastly to the old. Beginning in the sixth century, Japan was profoundly influenced by China most of all, but also by Greek, Roman and Persian cultures. The interaction between these cultures and indigenous religion and customs created a new Japanese culture. This cultural pattern reflects the Buddhist doctrine of Samsara or transmigration. This doctrine teaches that the world we live in, all of nature and man himself, are constantly changing - nothing is permanent but exists together in an immense cosmic web of life. Architecture is no exception to this law. Thus buildings should not be conceived of as permanent monuments. They can only be natural and humane by being ever-changing and growing in accordance with the law of transmigration. A second characteristic of Japanese culture is the coexistence - what I might call "symbiosis" - of contradictory elements, conflicting ideas, and between a whole and its parts. Historically, Japan has readily absorbed much from different cultures, and sometimes the new contradicted the old. Yet, without fail, the new and the old were eventually integrated into a coexisting, symbiotic relationship. In Japan, spirit and matter are not seen as being absolute opposites, but as part of the same thing. This concept was explained by the eighteenth century Japanese philosopher Baien Miura who wrote that spirit and matter are actually no more than two ways of looking at the same thing. With regard to the whole and its parts, too, he did not consider a whole and its parts as constituting a hierarchy. Rather the parts and the whole are mutually inclusive, each being of equal value. This points to the possibility of creating cities not in terms of infrastructure, but by piling up of parts. The Zen philosopher Daisetsu Suzuki explained this idea in terms of the relationship of the individual to society and to the whole through what he called "Oriental individuum ", or a logic of "being equals non-being". These ideas are related to another Buddhist concept that goes back to the Sanskrit term sunyata, or "absolute voidness". The concept of the "void" was first explained by the second century Indian philosopher Nagarjuna in a treatise on his doctrine of the "middle way". It later became established in the doctrine of "consciousness only" taught by the fourth century Indian philosopher, Vasubandhu. The "void" embraces all contradictory things - existence and non-existence, spirit and matter, parts and the whole - and in it all things coexist in infinite and "symbiotic" relationship.

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