Naked Functionalism and the Anti-Aesthetic

The Activities of Renshichirō Kawakita in the 1930s

Proposal for Ukrainian theater international design competition by Kawakita. 1930, from: Kenchiku Gaho, 22-6, Jun. 1931.

The Season of the Modernist Architectural Movement'

Towards Utopia

Renshichiro Kawakita, Drawing of concert hall named “Reigaku-dou”, ca. 1926, from: Kenchiku Shincho, 8–3, Mar. 1927.

In the history of Japanese architecture, the season of the modernist architectural movement began with the pioneering Secession School of architects (Bunri-ha Kenchikukai). This association was founded in 1920 by six graduates of the Imperial University of Tokyo’s Department of Architecture who, under the slogan of “architecture as fine art,” attempted a minor rebellion by promoting romanticism and individualism within the prevailing context of nationalistic academicism. Rebellious as they may have been, most of these associates had quickly obtained employment within the building and repair section of the Ministry of Communications and Transportation or the design department of major construction companies. Others had found posts planning the Peace Commemoration Tokyo Exposition, then under preparation. Their elite status as graduates of a prestigious university gave them the opportunity to put their ideas into practice. The Secession School style, which up to the previous year had consisted of little more than some blueprints, suddenly took shape in the pavilions of the Tokyo Exposition and telegraph buildings.

Renshichirō Kawakita had entered the department for teacher training at Tokyo Higher Technical School (Tōkyō Kōtō Kōgyō Gakkō) in April 1922, barely a month after the Peace Commemoration Tokyo Exposition had opened beside Shinobazu Pond in Ueno Park, Asakusa. The site was so close to his family home that Kawakita passed it daily on his way to and from college.

The department of Tokyo Higher Technical School at which Kawakita studied architecture trained teachers of architecture for technical schools. The vocational education system had been developed rapidly from the time of the Meiji period as a way of developing the administrative apparatus necessary for a smooth progression into a modern state. Rights, responsibilities and a rigid hierarchy were meticulously allocated, from the technical and bureaucratic elite at the top of the management pyramid to the blue collar on-site workers at its bottom. This rigorous hierarchy is reflected in the lengthy title of the school. The system no doubt preserved the solid stability of the Meiji period, but Kawakita was a student in the Taishō era, when a different wind had begun to blow. A vivid picture of this younger generation in the age of Taishō democracy is given in the recollections of Kazuyuki Fukushima, a contemporary of Kawakita’s who graduated from the electrical engineering course and joined him in teaching at Kanagawa Technical School:

“Kawakita the architect was an uninhibited enthusiast of the genius type. Giving ourselves up to our own youthful enthusiasms, we discussed expressionist painting and films, the Chekhov play at the Tsukiji Little Theatre and German democratic socialism.”1

As a young man, Fukushima idolized Einstein and dreamed of going to study in Weimar, Germany. Perhaps both he and Kawakita were holding their dreams close as they surveyed the future. Fukushima kept to the world of reality and by the time he wrote his memoirs after the war, had become head of the school, the highest attainable position for graduates of the teaching course. So, one dream was achieved as another faded. Kawakita, on the other hand, soon took his leave from the mundane reality of bureaucratic posts. On his way to class, he did not set his sights straight ahead towards the school, but, as would shortly become clear, allowed his gaze to veer to one side, towards the architects associated with the Vienna Secession.

After he quit teaching a year later, Kawakita studied musical composition under Kōsaku Yamada. His reason for doing so was to learn “to create ‘frozen music.’” Given his romantic leanings, for Kawakita the study of music was a requirement for architecture, a reference to Friedrich Schelling’s dictum that “architecture is a frozen music.” The occasion for this observation was the launch of the poetry, music and fine art magazine, Poetry and Music (Shi to Ongaku), edited by Yamada and the poet Hakushū Kitahara, and published by Ars at the end of 1922. Kawakita had for some time been interested in Western music. In his second year at university he read the article “Music and Ecstasy,” which described Yamada’s concept of a musical utopia in which it is possible for the art of music to take the listener to realms of extreme spiritual ecstasy”

“This is something I have started to think about recently. This is it exactly: the construction of a new palace of music. This place will (be neither) concert hall (nor) theatre but a concert hall like a temple or oratory, and this hall must be built in the very middle of a quiet forest far from human habitation ... and (in it) all the people will return to their true individual selves, and quietly and carefully listen to the sounds, hear them internally, become one with them and exalt their reverent hearts through the vaulted ceiling to the thrones of unseen gods. Then, with purified, elevated and beautified hearts, they will quietly and silently leave the hall, and then, one by one … proceed to … exit from the forest.2

While studying under Yamada, during his time teaching at Kanagawa Technical School, and after he was professionally employed, Kawakita produced two designs on the theme “music and ecstasy.” For the second of these, The Spiritual Concert Hall, he made forty large free-hand drawings of an abstract architectural space which would act on the human psyche in concert with the music. This proposal was shown in the sixth exhibition of the Secession Architects in January 1927, where it was highly praised and also featured in an architectural magazine, the first time Kawakita’s work was published in such a journal. Kawakita had been conscious of the activities of the Secession Architects since first attending teacher training school, having in his mind the idea of architecture as a fine art. Now at last he was admitted into the very midst of this throng.

In Pursuit of Reality

After his music teacher Kōsaku Yamada introduced the two men, in 1927 Kawakita joined the architectural office of Arata Endo. Known as a favorite disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright during his time designing the Imperial Hotel, Endo had separated from Wright by then and set up his own practice, mainly designing houses. This was Kawakita’s first experience of architectural practice, but it did not last long:

“During this period, I built a four-and-a-half mat dwelling in a corner of a temple graveyard in Eikyūchō while my reading matter was Maeterlinck, Les Fleurs du Mal, Verlaine, Mallarmé, Rofū Miki and Bergson. I was not so decadent as the man in Mr Tanizaki’s novel, who walks through Asakusa dressed as a woman, but working against the background of Asakusa had, in that sense, a considerable fascination for me. I did my best work in the evenings and early mornings. And at night I was a flâneur, strolling through Asakusa.”3

This was in 1928—nearly five years after the Great Kanto Earthquake, when the Tokyo Reconstruction Plan was entering its final stages. Large-scale projects such as the opening of the Asakusa-Ueno subway, construction of the six Sumida bridges and the reconstruction in ferro-concrete of the Nakamise shopping street were all well under way. Changes wrought by the effects of the earthquake were evident in other corners of this area, such as the barracks-style picture halls that had sprung up in the Asakusa Rokku entertainment district like bamboo shoots after rain, the culverting of Shinhorigawa river, and the demolition of the tall Ryōunkaku building—the so-called “Asakusa Twelve-floors”—with the transfer of its famous bars to the Tamanoi (brothel district). One side of the Eikyūmachi district was next to the Asakusa entertainment district, along the Shinhorigawa river. It was a temple district with many subsidiary temples of the Asakusa Honganji. Kawakita was living in seclusion in one corner of a graveyard, reading Symbolist poetry and spending his nights wandering in disguise through Asakusa, like a hero from a Tanizaki Junichiro novel.

This “work against the background of Asakusa” absorbing him in his graveyard studio was The Asakusa Rebuilding Work, published in 1928. This major urban planning proposal covered the area at the center of Asakusa Park. Instead of the Hyōtan (Gourd) Pond and Kannon temple there would be “a New Kannon temple re-formed into (a) People’s Cathedral,” towering over and reflected in a large semi-circular pond. Instead of the chaotic proliferation of kitschy moving picture halls that then existed there would be “a cinema complex, comprising 24 cinemas linked into a street of multi-story decks with under and over-passes; and instead of the temple-style Nakamise there would be a three-story street plan for a popular entertainment area,” with shops and restaurants along an overhead walkway. In addition, there were to be apartments for those of the entertainment area, apartments for monks residing in the temples, a people’s entertainment park (a remodeling of the present flower garden), a labor exchange, personal advice center and other social facilities and buildings housing the ward office, police station, banks, post office, fire station and the like—all arranged in functional groupings forming an innovative reincarnation of pre-earthquake Asakusa. In this plan there is a mixture of Asakusa’s past and future, and of dreams and reality.

Fanciful urban plan “Asakusa Kaizoan” (redevelopment for Asakusa), 1928, from: Kenchiku Shincho, 9–11, Nov. 1928.

It should not be overlooked, however, that this plan covers an exact area of 800 meters from north to south and 500 meters east to west of the streets at Asakusa district’s center, an area that is now Asakusa 1- and 2-chome, and Kaminari-mon 1- and 2-chome. The content may be fanciful, but the framework is empirically sound. This shows that Kawakita’s imagination was already attracted to problems of the everyday empirical world. Previously, he had shut himself away from the mundane reality of the teachers training college in the utopia of a “forest far from the human habitation.” He had moved through a world divided into mundane days full of the hammer sounds of reconstruction and nights enveloped in fin de siècle decadence, only to arrive back daily to the reality of Asakusa. But the positive activity of “reconstruction” was a reality he could no longer avoid. Fancifully utopian designs were completely meaningless in the realm of real, mundane architecture, since the ideas that flowed so freely in utopian space-time served intentions entirely divorced from it.

Following The Asakusa Rebuilding Work, Kawakita energetically published architectural plans, including a people’s cinema-cum-theatre, a people’s cinema-cum-shadow-theatre, a 100,000-person outdoor cinema and a Tokyo street improvement plan. These were not planned design projects, and it was due to this that he expended great effort in demonstrating they were not mere fantasies. The descriptions of overseas examples of modern urban planning, along with the translations of Western urban theorists and architects in architectural magazines in the years 1929 and 1930—including Le Corbusier, Adolph Behne, Ludwig Hilberseimer, Alexander Klein and the Rasch brothers—were evidence, or perhaps a by-product, of these studies.

In 1929 Kawakita led some of the younger graduates of the teacher training college to form the AS Architectural School (AS Kenchiku-kai). His public activities also increased considerably, with Kawakita organizing several exhibitions, publishing projects in journals and writing architectural criticism. The Secession School which he idolized had dissolved the previous year, and in its place the Sōusha group had begun publishing plans foregrounding a Marxist social consciousness. The architectural movements that had previously claimed architecture as a fine art in the early 1920s now faced a turning point. Amidst this turmoil Kawakita soon became an actual campaigner.

The Frustrated Connection

Diagram illustrating internal functions of Kawakita’s proposal for Ukrainian theater, from: Kenchiku Kōgei. I see all, Vol. 2, No. 9, Sep. 1932.

Utopia and reality. Confronted by two contradictory challenges, the architectural movement of 1929 faced a difficult situation. The first was how to demonstrate the technical feasibility of their plans; the second, how to reflect within their proposals a realistic social consciousness. Regarding the former: it was possible to lend the proposals a certain persuasiveness by including the results of scientific research and advanced examples from other countries. It was the latter issue, however, that posed the real problem. Rather than constituted merely as structural information to inform the resulting architecture, in the movement a real “social consciousness” meant a critique of the existing social order—as, for example, in the Workers Health Center (Rōdōsha Shiinryōsho by Ichiro Ebihara, 1929) and the Co-op Apartments (kyōdōkumiai apaato by Zen’ichi Imaizumi and Eiji Dōmyo, 1930)—thus architectural plans became in this context a means of expressing a particular political ideology. The calculus resulting was: the more real (or reformist) the social consciousness of the architect, the lower the probability that a particular plan could be implemented within the prevailing social system. Furthermore, in the background of these two issues was the fact that the architects involved in this movement tended to avoid direct argumentation. This remained architecture very much as an artistic endeavor. Since a building is a plastic object, inevitably aesthetics become an issue, but they believed this aspect to be an alternative to reality. This resulted in a tendency to fixate on design while downplaying the reality of social consciousness.

Eventually a serious desire to apprehend reality became linked to a feeling of skepticism towards the preparation of plans and displays for exhibitions—previously the architectural movement’s modus operandi. The following statement by Kawakita expresses his doubts about the methodological effectiveness of plans, suggesting they may even obstruct the movement’s development.

“What is first demanded of us with regards to … forms of architectural presentations is neither the so-called 'proposal' or 'design.' It is to let the masses know what it is that … has caused us to make the design. This is to positively extract the things hidden behind the models and perspective drawings exhibited hitherto, and to ensure that these, which have previously been no more than specialized laboratory reports, are generalized and channeled.”4

An effort to increase the apprehension of reality within the movement (while the circuits that might connect the movement to quotidian reality remained closed) led to a major transformation of its attitudes and methods. One embodiment of this was the League for New Architects (Shinkō Kenchiku Renmei). The League was established on 18 July 1930 by a preparatory committee comprising not only the existing Sōusha and AS groups, but also young architects, university researchers and government technical specialists who were already exchanging ideas and theories in the pages of architectural journals. More than a hundred members attended the first conference that October, following which a policy statement, The 1930 Declaration, was published:

“We stand together on a scientific social consciousness for the theoretical and technical apprehension of architecture. In order to rectify tomorrow’s architecture to be justly powerful, and to liberate architecture from the nexus of today’s relations of social production, which are at an impasse, we will carry this out through scientific investigation of reality and an understanding of the laws of the inevitability of historical development. We will destroy all reactionary tendencies in contemporary architecture by internal adjustment and shared efforts.

1. Research Department: research into architectural history and architectural forms, technical research into materials and structures, surveys, architectural plans (research into standardized volume production, housing problem, city planning), forums, short training courses.

2. Publicity Department: lectures and exhibitions, editing and publications, use of newspapers and magazines (to circulate League ideas).

3. Operations Department: architectural design and building, industrial production of craft objects, design and production of general commercial art, management of courses and research facilities.

4. Criticism Department: objections to architectural plans, objections to architects, objections to erroneous publications by architects, reform of the awards system, reform of the architectural planning organizations and implementation organizations, reform of school education.

5. Mutual Aid: a service for seeking out employment opportunities, unemployment support, job sharing, use of procurement.

6. Liaison Department: international communication, integration of regional architects into the association, communication with fellow practitioners and critics.”5

Renshichirō Kawakita, Proposal for Ukrainian theater international design competition. 1930, from: Kenchiku Gaho, Vol. 22, No. 6, Jun. 1931.

Kawakita was a member of the preparation committee that established this association and explored new methods of activism as secretary of the publicity department. It was around this time that he received notification of the call for proposals to design a new Ukrainian National Theatre.

The specifications for the new theatre in Kharkov was for a structure with an audience capacity of four thousand people. An international architectural contest had been authorized by the Soviet Union early in 1929. In June 1930, a limited competition was held within the Soviet Union, and programs inviting design proposals were distributed in Ukrainian, Russian, German, French and English. In Japan, they were delivered to the Architectural Institute of Japan through the Soviet Embassy. A shortened translation of the requirements was published in the August issue of its magazine, The Journal of Architecture and Building Science (Kenchiku Zasshi), where it was also noted that “The building is scheduled for completion within five years … the original program is held by the Architectural Institute and may be viewed there by potential applicants.”

Kawakita began to prepare his own application, working obsessively and without pause in order to be able to submit his entry by the 25 December deadline. As Secretary of the League for New Architects he also dutifully distributed copies of the application requirements and the accompanying site map. He negotiated with the Soviet embassy for all Japanese applications to be delivered together. Additionally, he also wrote an explication of the application requirements, which had previously been published in the journal International Architecture, quoting, “as a reference for my colleagues,” an article on Le Corbusier’s Palace of the League of Nations in Geneva. His actions might have bestowed an advantage to other applicants, but this was no doubt because he thought that the applications should be made by the architectural movement as a whole. By the competition deadline, applications had been submitted by Kawakita, Sōusha, Nagatoshi Tsuchihashi, Aki Katō and Hideo Noro.

On 13 November, about a month before the competition deadline, a large headline reading “Red Propaganda in Architecture, NAP’s activities spread through all areas / Authorities to crack down on ‘Year-end Struggle” appeared midway down page 7 of the Yomiuri Shinbun newspaper. In the article, the formation of the League of New Architects was described as part of “the Reds’ year-end struggle to convert the masses” by the All-Japan Proletarian Artistic League (Nippona Artista Proleta Federacio (NAP)). This report led to a spate of resignations from the League, which for a short time had had a membership of over a hundred, and it was decided at a special general meeting the following December that it should be dissolved. The channel of communication to the real world had briefly opened, only to be shut from the other side.

The results of the Ukrainian national theatre competition were announced in May 1931. Of the Japanese applicants, only Kawakita’s design was selected. Viewing both the Japanese entries and those from other countries highlights the absolute distinctiveness of Kawakita’s plan. Although demonstrating an outward fealty to the modern style, the stage machinery, lighting system, the patterns in which these were combined, as well as the handling of the lines of audience flow from the foyer to the theatre seating proposed by Kawakita’s fellow Japanese architects were essentially those of a conventional theatre. Kawakita’s design showed a creativity equivalent to the avant-garde trends in theatre and film in Russia and Germany, as exemplified by Erwin Piscator, Vsevolod Meyerhold, Dziga Vertov and Sergei Eisenstein. In consideration of the need to subtly acknowledge the sponsor, Kawakita included a silhouette sketch of Lenin leaning forward during an oration.

At the celebration party held by his former fellow members of the League for New Architects after the news of his entry placing fourth, Kawakita spoke as follows:

“Some people when they look at my plans wonder what such and such is and what this proposal may be, and I believe that the more (of) such people there are, the greater is the significance of this meeting … there has been a lot of realistic criticism and intellectual exposure (with) regards (to) my small bit of good fortune and the general idea that anybody could do this if they could just find the time means, I consider, that this meeting could function (however improbably) as the first step of our major international advance … I have made this plan from the standpoint of a single architectural technician. It was just when, personally, I was beginning to become sick of architectural conventions resulting in fabrications, aesthetics, avocational façades, and to think that it was merely work for a draftsman, that I felt that I should look at these application rules.”6

This was neither lip service or humility. In his response to the specification included in the competition guidelines, Kawakita was, objectively, no more than a technician who had thoroughly adopted functionalism: the results would be the same whoever carried it out. This was not a stroke of good fortune for one person, in Kawakita’s view, but a triumph for modernism.

Kawakita’s statement expressed one of the idée fixe of the architectural movement in Japan at that time. But there was a difference in this case. It involved the Soviet Union where (it was thought) an experiment in earthly utopia was underway. The environment that the Japanese architectural movement aspired to was (it was believed) already in place elsewhere. It was within this framework that Kawakita could, for the first time, behave as a practitioner rather than a theoretician, and as an architect rather than a campaigner.

The reaction to Kawakita was not necessarily favorable, however. Being that it was a Soviet design competition, the same rumors that had previously swirled around the League for New Architects once again began circulation:

“Hearing this, I was overwhelmed by an unpleasant feeling … particularly when I sensed that this had risen from spiteful motivations toward my plans, whatever the nature of these might be. … As an expert and a single protester within the world of Japanese architecture, I will not renounce the struggle for this uplifting and enlightened movement until I die.”7

The program to implement what had first been sketched out by the League for New Architects was aborted before it even started. Since the League’s dissolution, the spirit of the movement had been completely dispelled; its time was at an end. What did Kawakita’s statement mean at this juncture? It might have been regretful resignation or, alternately, mere bravado. Whichever the case, Kawakita’s activities in the 1930s stemmed from his desire to build and not merely plan.

ōsei Education and its Environs

The Continuing Movement

Alongside his other activities, in the spring of 1930 Kawakita translated Von Material zu Architektur (1929), a book by the Hungarian Bauhaus master László Moholy-Nagy from the Bauhaus publication series Bauhaus books (1925–30). Next, with a group of architectural school members and other young friends, he initiated a study group—the New Architecture Research Center—which met at his house. The group carried out modernist investigations, such as measuring the dimensions of the counters and chairs of Ginza restaurants. He also helped in founding the Research Institute of Life Construction, together with one of the first Japanese students to attend the Bauhaus, Takehiko Mizutani—who had returned to Japan to take up a post as Assistant Professor at the Tokyo College of Fine Arts—the architect Ken Ichiura, graphic artist Masuji Hamada, Sadanosuke Nakada, who had previously provided Kawakita with materials and contacts, the art critic Takao Itagaki and Isaku Ishimura, founder of Bunka Gakuin, one of the first co-ed vocational schools in Japan. The Center was established primarily to hold exhibitions and give lectures. In November they published the first issue of the magazine Architecture and Crafts. I See All Architecture and Crafts (Kenchiku Kōgei. I See All). The journal “completely relied on” the architectural publisher Kōyōsha for its administration, and included inserts of advertising pamphlets for various building materials. (Kawakita, who alone bore responsibility for editing and publication, received “30 yen per month as a fee for editing.”8)

These apparently disparate figures united around achieving their shared ambition to open their own school, the Shikenchiku Kōgei Gakuin (School of New Architecture and Design), which opened in the Ginza district’s Mitsuki Building in June of 1932. Its proclaimed goal was “to provide theoretical and technical education for designers with excellent abilities in architecture and crafts for the new age.”9 Although ordinarily described as a college, Shikenchiku Kōgei Gakuin was a small organization comparable to a private school. Besides Kawakita, the teaching staff included Ichiura, Masami Makino (who had worked in Le Corbusier’s atelier for eight months), and Kameki Tsuchiura, who, together with his wife Nobuko, had worked on Frank Lloyd Wright’s Imperial Hotel. Initially the school had fifteen students attending daytime classes and twenty students taking evening classes. The course of study was six months.

From Shikenchiku Kōgei Gakuin’s stated aims and the fact that it employed professional architects as teachers, from the outset it was clear that the college was aimed at architects and craftspeople (such as furniture designers). At its 1934 peak it ran six courses, in the fields of textiles, (Western) clothing design, architecture, painting, drama and crafts. This did not mean, however, that the school had departed from the school’s initial goals. When Kawakita had initially helped in founding the Research Institute for Life Configurations, he claimed that “to return all aspects of daily life to their true forms and to compose them anew with a correct spirit and new sensibility” was to be “thought of as clearly separating our work from all previous categories.”10 Thus, their intended aim was to promote a revolution in the totality of daily life, including architecture and handicrafts.

Seikatsu Kōsei Tenrankai (exhibition for designing the new living) organized by Kawakita held in June 1931, from: Kenchiku Gaho, Vol. 22, No. 10, Oct. 1931.

Students are waving their hands from the window of Mitsuki Building where the the School for New Architecture and Design presided over by Kawakita in 1932, from: Kenchiku Kōgei. I see all, Vol. 2, No. 11, Nov. 1932.

As the scope of the courses expanded, the number of teachers involved with the college increased: Tetsuro Okada and Iwao Yamawaki joined the architecture faculty; new hires in design and crafts included Tomotaka Nishikawa, Tetsuro Hashimoto, Saburo Miyamoto and Kakuo Shinkai; in drama, Kinnaru Sonoike, Yawara Hayashi and Yoshio Nozaki joined the faculty; and Michiko Yamawaki and Shizuko Kageyama joined the fabric and clothing design department. Since the college also carried out various activities in addition to teaching, it began to resemble a salon, with a wide range of visiting tutors. Guest lecturers, including stage designers, film professionals and musicians, participated in the regular courses, while various groups associated with Kawakita used the college as a venue for their activities (including the Japan Drywall Research Group with Tadao Aoyama, Ken Ichiura, Chikatada Kurata, Kameki Tsuchiura; the Ginza Drama Research Center with Hayashi and Kawakita; and Drama Action with Shiko Tsubouchi, Yonezo Hamamura, Chikushi Mizutani, Shizuo Tōyama, Sonoike and Hayashi). The school also made preparations to participate in the Fourth International Conference of the CIAM (Congrès Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne), although their participation in the conference—originally planned to be held in Moscow but eventually convened aboard a ship sailing from Marseille to Athens after the Soviet’s rejection of CIAM principles became clear—never transpired.11

The following passage appeared in the magazine Kenchiku Kōgei. I See All, which, in fact, was launched before the college opened.

“Now, throughout the world, the age of technology has begun. All crafts and sciences are firmly and technically integrated. We, who encompass crafts and sciences, appeal to the masses from the midst of these new crafts and sciences. Here, new architecture and crafts are elevated by easily understood illustrations, in which the myriad difficult and circuitous expressions and mathematical equations are cancelled out. This is a free al fresco school, liberated from the stiff and formal schoolroom and all old restrictions.”12

Just as the magazine is here compared to a school, Kenchiku Kōgei. I See All and the School of New Architecture and Design would eventually enter an inextricable relationship. The magazine was a textbook for the college and the college a source of new articles and special features. For its readership, this arrangement offered the benefit of answering questions on one page and offering discounts on college courses on another. Another way the magazine fulfilled its role as a college journal was the establishment of “I See All Regional Branches.” These “branches” consisted of groups of regular Kenchiku Kōgei. I See All readers who attended free classes, receiving teaching materials that were distributed to those who could not reach the college, while at the same time the journal could be introduced to a wider audience through these activities. Branches were formed in Kofu, Fukushima, Nagoya (at Nagoya Higher Technical School), Kyōto and Wakayama. The Gunma Prefecture branch maintained a close relationship with the businessman Fusaichiro Inoue, who contributed to the area’s cultural revival, and Tokugen Mihara who made a great contribution to the crafts scene of Takasaki: furniture designed at the school was made in the area and sold via mail order.

These three endeavors—the School of New Architecture and Design in Ginza, the school’s local branches and the house journal Kenchiku Kōgei. I See All—were all interlinked with one another, demonstrating Kawakita’s facility in both pedagogy and campaigning alike.

Moreover, if we think of these developments in conjunction with the fact that, towards the end of the 1920s, the architectural movement remained confined to specialists while overtly claiming solidarity with the masses, and was limited to the area of Tokyo although its members aspired to increase their scale and range of influence, Kawakita able to considerably expand interest in modern architecture and design to individuals and regions which the previous architectural movement had been unable to reach.

The campaigning nature of Kawakita’s various endeavors becomes clearer when compared with the slogan of the League for New Architects. The League’s declaration “to achieve architecture theoretically and technically” is much the same in meaning as the College’s goal “to provide theoretical and technical education for designers with excellent abilities in architecture and crafts for the new age.” Indeed, the research and surveys cited as activities by the “Research Department” of the League, the lectures and publications organized by its “Publicity Department,” the designs and industrial production of craft products by its “Operations Department,” the international and domestic contacts fostered by its “Liaison Department”—all these activities were carried out, with varying degrees of success, at the School of New Architecture and Design.

What Kawakita had previously claimed as a “civilizing movement which would ‘struggle to the death’” were, in fact, all part of this educational campaign. There was no trace, however, of any sense of despair over the failings and doctrinaire portentousness of the League. Kawakita’s architectural movement continued along on a lively popular course.

Starting from Reality

Renshichirō Kawakita, Basic conceptual diagram, from: Kenchiku Kōgei. I see all, Vol. 2, No. 11, Nov. 1932.

Kōsei (composition or structure) education” means a method of technical education and joint research carried out experimentally at our school, the Ginza Architecture and Craft Research Establishment. … What we claim and experiment on, or at least strive towards, is, in a word, “to have a correct and productive understanding of technology both through theory and the mind and at the same time through practice and the hand.”13

Kawakita called the educational activities that developed around the central axis of the School of New Architecture and Design “kōsei education.” The term “compositional/structural education” is often taken nowadays to refer to a preparatory course in composition derived from the Bauhaus—plastic arts training in which plastic elements such as color, form and materials are treated abstractly. Tracing the route through which this teaching method was first introduced into Japan reveals that credit lies with Takehiko Mizutani who first used the term during the Research Institute of Life Construction period: the practice continued at the School of New Architecture and Design. If, however, too much attention is paid to its origins, the import of this kind of structural education in the Japanese context is lost. Indeed, Kawakita’s kōsei education is completely misunderstood nowadays. And this despite the fact that he himself clearly stated: “Of course, (kōsei education) is not meant to be education with the aim of producing structures. We aim to look at this with a larger view, in a larger form, a greater viewpoint.”14 In fact, the misunderstanding had already begun in the 1930s and Kawakita continually strove to correct the misimpression.

Even while remaining misunderstood, Kawakita’s idea of kōsei gradually began to split into two. One was “productive kōsei” (human performance with an aim), with production indicating all production media related to daily life—including those subjects taught at the School of New Architecture and Design (architecture, drama, textiles and so on). By contrast, kōsei without an aim or “abstract kōsei,” was a form of training to sharpen human sensitivity, a practice intended to serve in the project of “helping the masses to discover various technologies from their experience and (with) their own eyes and hands.”15 Significantly, “abstract kōsei” was identified as “practical, indirect, preparatory training for ‘productive kōsei.’”16 “We claim that ‘abstract kōsei’ is simply a convenient exercise method for eye and hand,” Kawakita wrote in 1933, “and that there is a completely different structure (productive kōsei) which is used for practical purposes.”17 This emphasis on productive kōsei was at the core of Kawakita’s kōsei education. It is described as follows:

“Briefly, it is a method whereby a certain linkage between natural phenomena and social phenomena is understood through a multiplicity of activities themselves. At the core of our kōsei education is kōsei itself. This may be termed human activity or labor. … Thus our view is that these activities are encompassed by all of nature and also society. For example, in kōsei education we view the turning of a water wheel, the making of a desk and the building of a house as facts in front of us which we touch and see, which we investigate and test through a range of methods. We understand with hands and eyes why this is so and what we should do. … Simply put, there is direct experience, with eyes wide open to reality.”18

Productive kōsei is human activity itself; first, the five senses are sharpened; the various scenes of activity are consciously observed and through this daily life itself is understood. Next, human activity is examined by natural science (“natural research”) and then by social science (“social research”). Following this process leads to the discovery of previously unnoticed problems in all aspects of daily life, a search for methods of solving these and eventually the discovery of new ways of living in which these problems are solved.

In the college curriculum this process proceeded as follows. In the example of the kōsei of housing, they actually experienced and investigated middle-class housing, lower-class housing, slums in Tokyo, and critiqued and investigated the structure, ventilation, hygiene, sunlight and plans (“natural research”) and furthermore made critiques and compared them to other countries. Thus, all kōsei education started from reality. From this vantage human actions could be viewed holistically, “all living things, not abstract and not isolated from life.” Ideas arising from this view of reality might be viewed as dialectically opposed to those generated by the architectural movement of the 1920s. In that phase of Kawakita and his colleagues’ thinking, the ideal image of life was first depicted in the form of an architectural plan, then an attempt was made to apprehend reality in order to connect these plans to the real world. However, as we have seen, the connection between plan and reality was quickly separated. This practical lesson was integrated into Kawakita’s idea of kōsei education, which was tied up with his personal effort to overcome the conceptual bankruptcy of the architectural movement. Reality was not something one had to search for; it existed in the here and now. Kawakita’s kōsei education activities were not only formalized activities—they were also an effort to provide a successor to Japan’s modernist architectural movement.

An Unexpected Development

The idea of kōsei education = productive kōsei was not accepted in the architectural world. Methods of interrogating architecture on the basis of examining current conditions is now a generally accepted methodology in architectural planning, as noted previously, but in the 1930s architectural planning had yet to be established as a distinct area of study. The characteristics of Kawakita’s social research, which took housing as but one example, can be detected in the housing surveys undertaken under the auspices of the Deteriorated Residential Areas Improvement Act (promulgated in 1927), but this research was more strongly connected to political policy-making. At the very beginning of systematic research, “natural research” was still known as the “principles for planning.” The perceived future direction of this area of study was at that time greatest amongst supporters of the architectural movement than academics: it was the former who would provide the motive force for the development of architectural planning. But Kawakita’s “productive kōsei” was regarded by professional architects as an avant-garde enterprise.

Kōsei education not only failed to find acceptance, it was, in fact, misunderstood and vociferously criticized. The reasons for this lay in abstract kōsei. This was something Kawakita had adopted as a “basic training for design”—a synthesis of Josef Albers’ “material form education,” Wassily Kandinsky’s “abstract form education” and the materials-oriented approach of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy (as well as his belief that the camera possessed the capacity to apprehend the outside world in ways the human eye could not). Each approach had been encountered by Takehiko Mizutani during his time at the Bauhaus, and each subsequently became important for the School of New Architecture and Design. As synthesized by Kawakita in abstract kōsei, his teaching was intended to create “average technicians rather than exceptional craftspeople”: he regarded his method as a means of enhancing the observant eye through practice, thus transforming ideas (which Mizutani termed a “leap”).

“This is an education unlike teaching that is not conceptual: that, for example, a roof frame is pictured as having a king post and queen post and a chair has to have four legs—an education which conveys a more convenient, simpler montage of technology into anybody’s hands or head. This kōsei education may seem at first to be abstract and so be regarded coldly by you all, but I am positive that this perception and technology are the sole weapons that you will be granted.”19

Although this should have been no more than the preparations for moving on to kōsei education = productive kōsei, this was not apparent from the outside. Rather, it was adopted uncritically as a model for structural plastic art and continued to be identified as a method for working with handicrafts. Indeed, in contrast to the lukewarm response abstract kōsei education met from the architectural world, kōsei education = abstract kōsei received much greater attention in the world of art education.

In 1932, when abstract kōsei was the subject of a special edition of Kenchiku Kōgei. I See All, the strongest reaction was from elementary school art teachers. Once they were made aware that their focus should be on the daily life of children growing up in an increasingly industrialized social environment, they found kōsei education = abstract kōsei to be type of a plastic art pedagogy of far greater utility than traditional art education models with their bias towards aesthetic cultivation. Kōsei education = abstract kōsei enjoyed something of a boom in arts pedagogy, even entering into the general education curriculum. In quick succession the Basic Kōsei Education Course was introduced in July 1932 by the Takasaki Prefectural Boards of Education at Wakayama Normal School, the following December at the Kofu branch, and so on. These developments were all sponsored by local education committees, indicating that many of the Kenchiku Kōgei. I See You local branches were comprised of readers who were teachers by trade. Eventually, some of these teachers even began using their summer holiday to attend courses at the School of New Architecture and Design.

Shikenchiku Kōgei Gakuin and its affiliates also fostered close relationships with teachers in the capital, including Akira Yamamoto, Kazuo Shimojima (Fukagawa Meiji Elementary School), Katsuo Takei (Sakata Elementary School), Haru Madokoro (Yokokawa Elementary School), Iseo Matsukawa (Keiyō Elementary School) and Yukio Yamauchi (Ichigaya Elementary School)—educators who all went on to promote kōsei education in post-war art education. The high level of interest led to a dramatic increase in practical examples of abstract kōsei in educational contexts. These results were reflected in two special features of Kenchiku Kōgei. I See All: Kōsei Education for Young Children I and II. The trend was also noted by Fukujiro Gōtō, head of the Art Education Association. Gōtō, himself an art teacher, was at that time engaged in publishing art education materials, including the magazine School Art. The Kōsei Education Compendium, a summary of the achievements of abstract kōsei written by Kawakita and Katsuo Takei, was published in September 1934 under the aegis of Gōtō. Containing more than 350 illustrations of abstract kōsei, judging from its multiple printings, the book must have been of considerable assistance to educators.

Cover of Kenchiku Kōgei (Architecture and Design). I SEE ALL, Tokyo: Koyo-sha, 1931–36, Private Collection (Prof. Dr. Hiromitsu Umemiya).

Cover of Kenchiku Kōgei (Architecture and Design). I SEE ALL, Tokyo: Koyo-sha, 1931–36, Private Collection (Prof. Dr. Hiromitsu Umemiya).

Renshichirō Kawakita at the workshop of Kōsei Kyouiku for art teachers held in Wakayama Prefecture, December 1933, from: Kenchiku Kōgei. I See All, Vol. 3, No. 3, Mar. 1933.

As imagined by Kawakita, kōsei education addressed the structures of all aspects of daily life, and was intended to reclaim the authorship of these structures from architects, craftspeople and other professionals—returning it to the everyday people who used and relied upon these things. This being the case, there should have been no difficulty in kōsei education becoming education for all. From the earliest occasion on which he proposed kōsei education, Kawakita made the following type of statement: “The question of kōsei is that it is a science that removes the boundaries and walls (that exist) between (different) subjects … (It) is the eyes and ears which the masses can apprehend from their own daily life. … Based on this, we can say that education in kōsei is, after all, not a specialist education but rather belongs to the category of general education.” Whereas abstract kōsei was introduced into the classrooms throughout Japan, daily life kōsei was restricted to the School of New Architecture and Design curriculum, going unnoticed by the architectural community. In fact, the scope of the college’s curriculum shrank to the extent that soon the only course offered was basic kōsei education. From the early autumn of 1934, the curriculum of the college—which in July, had comprised courses in textiles, (Western) clothing design, architecture, craft arts and kōsei education—was reduced to three courses: craft arts, kōsei education, drama course. By the spring of 1935, the curriculum had been reduced to two (drama and kōsei education), and by May only the kōsei education course remained, taught by Kawakita alone.

Parallel with the college, Kawakita ran the Renshichirō Kawakita Institute for Efficient Management of Shop and Merchandise (Kawakita Renshichirō Tenbonōritsu Kenkyūsho) in the Mitsuki Building. There was a need for the practice of productive kōsei in the everyday real world. He had ceased work on The Kōsei Education Compendium and, in general, was moving away from educational activities altogether, but the number of shop design projects undertaken by the design department of the college increased and in mid-1935, the design department became its own institution, operating as the Renshichirō Kawakita Institute for Efficient Management of Shop and Merchandise. Earlier in the year, soon after the publication of The Kōsei Education Compendium, Kawakita had already signaled his intention to move on to other pursuits, writing:

“Five years have passed since kōsei education was introduced into Japan and during this time it has (been subjected to) various persecutions and misunderstandings, but it has been largely secured at our hands, to the extent that research has been carried out into its possible use in elementary and junior high schools of Japan. … Any further development can no doubt be entrusted into the hand of specific experts who have a specialist standpoint.”20

With this change to the college, it might be expected there would be a change in the house journal Kenchiku Kōgei. I See All. In 1935, there was initially an increase in the number of articles about the shop projects undertaken by the design department, using the same type of special edition format as before, but from the beginning of 1936 there appeared a succession of short news articles taken from foreign journals: the magazine ceased publication after its August edition.

The Sacred and Profane in Shop Design

Kawata explaining rational shop design to merchants, ca. 1936, from: Renshichiro Kawakita: “Zukaishiki Tenpo Sekkei no Jissai”, Seibundou Shinkosya, 1937.

With the college entering a period of terminal decline, Kawakita’s shop design activities flourished.

“Having continued my movement to elevate technology through I See All, a little magazine with a small readership of enthusiasts, I have made a 180 degree turn and begun using I See All to promote 'shops and displays' to general businessmen through the magazine Shop World (Shōtenkai). This has caused a reaction that is far greater than before, so that the true effects of I See All have become clear. So, it seems, the so-called 'Kawakita style' of showcases and displays has appeared in shops in every part of the country.”21

The expression begun, using I See All is an interesting turn of phrase. It appears to mean “shops and displays” had begun being promoted as a form of productive kōsei. Previously, when Kawakita had discussed kōsei education = productive kōsei, he had tangentially indicated some methods for shops. In addition to the investigation of the structure (kōsei) of small shops, department stores and site conditions, he also investigated furniture, advertisements, shop displays, lighting, ventilation and lines of movement (natural research), examinations of the demise of small and medium size businesses, resistance to department stores, the foundation of and changes to shops and comparisons with other countries (social research). Thus, Kawakita’s shop designs were precisely kōsei education = productive kōsei adapted for shops.

In addition to shop design, he also developed self-diagnostic managerial materials using a system whereby shop owners gained knowledge about the management of their shop, became aware of problems and rectified these through improvements in management. Previously, he had commented on kōsei education that: “The problem is how the masses can develop themselves as part of this and how they can learn by themselves. … And the problem will be to let the general public discover various technologies, by their eyes and hands and from their experiences.”22 Thus the emphasis is on a method of study and discovery by the people themselves. In this sense, the management self-diagnosis materials which formed part of his efficiency research were concrete applications of kōsei education.

Kawakita writes that the “Kawakita style” had appeared “in all parts of the country,” and this claim was not braggadocio. Four one hundred and seventy-three shops were using his designs as of November 1936; this number had risen to 864 by October 1939. Not all of these were in Japan; there were some abroad.

In the background of this increase in commercially-oriented activity was an encounter with Yōichi Ueno, a management psychologist whose efforts to introduce and popularize Frederick Taylor’s The Principles of Scientific Management, “the Taylor system,” to Japan lead to him being called “the Father of Efficiency.” The Japan Institute of Management for Industry (otherwise known as the SANNO Institute of Management) had been founded by Ueno in 1925. It sent staff members to companies, factories and shops throughout Japan to provide guidance in improving efficiency. The institute also had a system in place where prior to consultants being sent out in the field, managers and shop owners who were followers of Ueno set up groups, receiving on-site instruction on efficiency improvement in each of the specialist areas of shop management. Kawakita’s shop design activities were part of these instructional activities. At this time, Kawakita, 19 years Ueno’s junior, was Ueno’s “greatest psychological supporter” and one of the efficiency expert’s leading disciples, undertaking the institute’s management guidance work together with Toshio Mizuta (an executive in the advertising industry) and Riichi Sonoda (later to become the head of the Osaka Institute for Efficient Management of Shop and Merchandise—Ōsaka Sangyōnōritsu Kenkyūsho).

Most of Kawakita’s shop design projects were renovations: there is little archival material to indicate new-builds. In many cases his “project” consisted of designing shop decoration and fixtures alone. Were this not so, it would scarcely have been possible for Kawakita to undertake so many individual commissions. His method was to “engage with management and discuss and research extremely specific methods of increasing efficiency and sales.” The area of implementation included “display research” appropriate for each type of product, “arrangement research” (methods of classification, storage and arrangement taking into account the dimensions, quantity, materials and prices of the products and corresponding fixtures) and “shop research,” involving improving efficiency by changing the windows, display shelves and shop layout. Ueno assessed Kawakita’s shop design as follows: “Many people design shops. Many people discuss management. However, there is probably nobody except this author capable of designing on the basis of the results of management analysis.”

Naked Functionalism

In the latter half of the 1930s, the number of shop design projects undertaken by Kawakita increased markedly. However, these were not mentioned in the architecture magazines of the time. There are many reasons for this. These projects were small-scale, low budget, popular, diverse and tended towards renovation work … the list is endless but, in short, it was on account of their being kitsch or “low design” that architectural magazines paid little attention to his shop design work. In terms of authorship and artistry—then and into the present day—such magazines favor elite projects over popular undertakings. Considered from their perspective, Kawakita’s shops were singularly undeserving of critical attention. To take one of Kawakita’s schemes as an example of his approach, let us look at what he wrote about the popular cake shop Nihonbashi:

“There are piles of the famous cakes looking at a distance like a flower arrangement. The shop sign is known as a ‘catalogue sign.’ This is because it displays quantities of products for sale, just like a catalogue. The sign above and the shop below are equally lively. The names of home-made products for sale are written in a fine hand on dangling sheets of paper.”23

An individual of refined sensibility would likely find such an exterior one to hurry past, and elements that such a person would wish to remove are described by Kawakita as if they possessed considerable merit.

Having examined known examples of Kawakita’s architectural plans, there is something perplexing about them in relationship to this commercial work. The agitated, finely rendered plan for an oratory, the dynamic design and model of The Asakusa Rebuilding Work, the refined Constructivism and accomplished presentation for the Ukraine National Theatre, these may all be justly described as “high design.” It strains credulity to think they are by the same designer as his shop renovations. However, the designs for shops are unmistakably the work of Kawakita, and indeed they are assured, full of confidence and are, in fact, more advanced than his previous works.

“Previously architects have … kept their eyes closed towards shops. … Architecture is almost always thought of in terms of the new construction of houses, with no emphasis, even in a narrow sense, (on) rough and ready architecture done to sell and make a living; to achieve an effect, even temporarily, one way or another, or (to undertake a) renovation. But most shop architecture is like this and therefore there is a special sensibility for shop architecture. For example, cases where the budget for the renovation of a shop is only 300 yen, and one is asked to use this entirely on a shop … on the verge of collapse … (such cases) are all too common. … Then after six months or a year, when the shop has recovered to some extent, one does a secondary renovation for 800 yen or 1000 yen, and then gets on with the next job … and when it is built and done, it is inconceivable that this could continue permanently to be the work of the designer.”24

The purpose of Kawakita’s kōsei education = productive kōsei was to grasp reality through the five senses and then subject this to scientific examination. The idea of kōsei was to start from the reality before one’s eyes. Since, in the case of shop design, almost all of this reality is a shop that is on the verge of collapse (or bankruptcy), if kōsei is implemented according to the idea of an unvarnished look at concrete reality, naturally enough this premise would lead one towards renovation over building anew. When the renovation in question has brought about a more prosperous business, this new reality might very well require a new productive kōsei. As Kawakita stated, productive kōsei “constantly works, constantly changes, and no one knows where it will end.” But the most important element in Kawakita’s shop designs was how they promoted efficiency, following from the notion that the human activity of business should be given rational form. How, for example, does the design of a floor plan or shop fixtures affect the way people behave? Efficiency in conducting business is always necessarily a dynamic, changing regimen lacking a single identifiable form. It may be described as “naked functionalism.” For Kawakita, his retail work was, in some sense, an outcome of his abandonment of the design philosophy prevailing in the 1920s, which, he felt, had declined into a kind of functionalist aesthetic. In Kawakita’s retail design work, form must necessarily and inevitably follow function.

That Kawakita’s work was accepted by society is indicated by its sheer quantity. He commented: “For the first time I realized that I had found a social role.”25 It is precisely architecture’s “social role” that the avant-garde of the architectural movement had striven towards for so long but, in the end, had failed to achieve. This is where Kawakita arrived in his work of the latter 1930s: it was the conclusion of a journey connecting modernism to reality. However, this work as the work of an architect did not find acceptance within modernism, and this remains so today.

Situation and Efficiency

Facade of confectionary store designed by Kawakita, ca. 1936, from: “Zukaishiki Tenpo Chinretsu Sekkei Zensyu 1” Monas, 1940.

After the outbreak of the Pacific War in 1941–42, domestic consumption was restrained by the wartime managed economy, and designing shops as a means of sustenance was no longer viable. As the situation changed, Kawakita’s efficiency research activities switched from management guidance to advice on improving the efficiency of war supply factories.26 Kawakita’s system of efficiency improvement research, field tested in the arena of retail design, proved capable of adapting to suit the demands of the age—for instance, in his work to improve the factory food supply facilities attached to the Osaka Industrial Patriotic Association (Ōsakafu Sangyō Hōkokkai). Factories became a new subject for kōsei.

However, the pressures of wartime gave Kawakita not simply a new subject for kōsei education = productive kōsei. It also, unexpectedly, brought new demands from the educational world for his methodology, a sphere he thought he had left behind. In a report from the Educational Council in December 1938, the subjects to be taught at the People’s Schools (Kokumin Gakkō; wartime schools providing elementary and early secondary education) were specified as imperial ethics, science and mathematics, physical education, arts and skills (which comprised music, calligraphy, drawing, technical work, housework and sewing). In tune with this trend, Fukujiro Gōtō of the Art Education Association promoted a campaign for the establishment of a “course of design and works”:

“Subsequently at the Education Council and Ministry of Education they embarked on drafting plans of the Peoples Schools. ‘Handicrafts’ were removed from the arts and skills and replaced by ‘works.’ This was a combination of the previous handicrafts (with the addition of) gardening as a science. I was opposed to this and often met school inspectors and the Director of the Bureau of Common Educational Affairs at the Ministry of Education to give them my opinion. I thought that handicrafts as merely imitations of carpenter-builders were no good and playing around with flowers and plants was no longer acceptable as a main subject in our schools. I said that, in the Japan of the future, in parallel with science, there would be an absolute need for technologies where things are invented and produced, and for knowledge and technologies whereby various machines are disassembled and assembled, repeatedly operated and repaired. This kind of subject should be emphasized in the future and it would then be appropriate to call it ‘works.’”27

Gōtō’s integration of design and works was intended as an accommodation with the current situation, adding a work element to the previous kōsei education = abstract kōsei. The essence of Gōtō’s proposal was to make the previous art education more productive and practical. Furthermore, Gōtō had published The Kōsei Education Compendium and its authors, Katsuo Takei, along with Yoshihisa Iwasaki, Makoto Yabuki and Haru Madokoro—researchers at the School of New Architecture and Design—were among the supporters of this campaign. Although the kōsei course eventually failed to find a place, the work course mentioned in the Educational Council report was, in fact, established after fierce debate, resulting in the creation of an arts and skills (works) course. A comprehensive description of the “structural work” espoused by Gōtō was presented in two volumes: A Collection of Techniques for Design and Works (Kōsaku Gijutsu Taikei) (1924) by Kawakita and A Collection of Inventive Ideas (Sōi Kufu Jiten) (1943), a joint work by Gōtō, Kawakita, Iwasaki, Yabuki, Takei, Taizō Inamura, Komao Ueda and Shigeru Komatsuzaki.

The Kōsei Education Compendium explained the principles of kōsei, taking abstract forms as its subject. In addition to analyzing how, given the preponderance of tools and machines for daily-use, kōsei is an apt tool for evaluating and describing routine daily life, the principles of kōsei delineated in The Kōsei Education Compendium explained methods of bringing daily life into accordance with the current situation (i.e., war) through increased efficiency. Take, for instance, chapter five, “Feeling ¦ Function¦ Efficiency” and Chapter 6, “Problems of machines and efficiency.” As indicated by its title, A Collection of Techniques for Design and Works has the same essential theme as the Compendium, arranged according to appliances and machines for daily-use. This series of works might be named The Three-part Works of Kōsei Education.

The intention of Gōtō and the others was to give art education, which had previously been oriented towards aesthetic cultivation, some of the characteristics of technical education, with the aim of fostering creativity and promoting “inventions and inventive ideas.” In this sense, it differs from the character-forming “work education” promoted in elementary school curricula at the beginning of the 1930s, which fostered a spirit of diligence regardless of whether the work was performed efficiently or not.

In the spring of 1941, elementary schools became “Peoples Schools.” The art teaching materials supplied to the teachers described the pedagogical spirit of teaching as follows: “The foundations should be laid for the spontaneous future development of young people in various directions, but this must not lead to the teaching of specialist-type pure art or education to produce little artists or any other similar type of teaching.”28 This pedagogical spirit, although not completely the same, was connected at a fundamental level with Kawakita’s earlier claims for kōsei education = abstract kōsei: “this practice, instead of creating individualistic artists, can be said to be an advanced educational method to create average artists,”29 and further, to his comment on the selection of his Ukrainian National Theatre plan as embodying “a complete technician with a richly developed common sense.”30

What this brought about was a faith in the autonomy of technology. There had always been a strong orientation towards principles, fundamental rules and regulations in the rationality of the kōsei education advocated by Kawakita during the season of the architectural movement. In the end, efficiency became the ultimate expression of this. This orientation towards abstraction developed into the promotion of the autonomy of technology. By contrast, his attitude towards the uses of technology within society was apolitical. The situation which demanded factory design and kōsei technology from Kawakita may have been, unexpectedly for him, an environment which favored the unfettered implementation of that technology.

Renshichirō Kawakita’s activities in the 1930s went from fantastical schemes via kōsei education to shop design, a path linking utopia to reality. The transformations of modes of activities which at first glance seems to show no consistency, may in fact be characterized as deliberate choices both purposeful and logical in nature. This, then, was a development from architecture conceptualized through the production of design plans, via kōsei education—a methodology for the promotion of these concepts and theories in actual society—to shop design, the application of kōsei education to reality itself. The radical shifts in focus that Kawakita’s work underwent in this period were the results of problem-solving with the aim, ultimately, of connecting ideas to reality.

  • 1 Kazuyuki Soejima: Sōritsu 50 shūnen kinenshi, Kanagawa Technical High School, p. 51.
  • 2 Kōsaku Yamada: “Ongaku no Hōetsu-kyō,” in: Shi to Ongaku, Dec. 1922, pp. 4–5.
  • 3 RRRRRRR (Renshichirō Kawakita): “Asakusa o hanasu,” in: Kenchiku Gahō, 21–12, Jul 1930, pp. 20–21.
  • 4 RRRRRRR (Renshichirō Kawakita): “Iwayuru report no keishiki ni tsuite,” in: Kenchiku Shincho, 12–1, Jan. 1931, pp. 14–15.
  • 5 Kenchiku Jicho, No. 4, Oct. 1930, pp. 44–45.
  • 6 Renshichirō Kawakita: “Ukraine gekijo no ōboan ni tsuite,” in: Kenchiku Gahō, 22–6, Jun. 1931, p. 4.
  • 7 Renshichirō Kawakita: “Ukraine gekijo no competition ni kanrenshite uttaeru,” in: Kenchiku Shincho, 12–6, Jun. 1931.
  • 8 Renshichirō Kawakita: “Design boom no mae o kakeru mono,” in: Nihon Design Shoshi, 1970, Davidsha, p.185.
  • 9 Kenchiku Kougei. I See All, Vol. 2, No. 4, Apr. 1932.
  • 10 Renshichirō Kawakita: “Seikatsu kōsei no kenkyū ni tsuite,” in: Kenchiku Gahō, Vol. 22, No. 10, Oct. 1931, p. 16.
  • 11 A detailed article about the circumstances of the 4th CIAM congress, please read Thomas Flierl’s article “The 4th CIAM congress in Moscow. Preparation and Failure (1928–33)” in the Research Archive of
  • 12 Kenchiku Kōgei. I See All, Vol. 1, No. 1, Nov. 1931.
  • 13 Renshichirō Kawakita: “Kōsei kyōiku ni tsuite,” in: Kenchiku Kōgei. I See All, Vol. 2, No. 1, Nov. 1932, p. 1.
  • 14 Ibid.
  • 15 Renshichirō Kawakita: “Kōsei kyōiku to sono kisozuke toshiteno Gestalt shinrigaku,” in: Kenchiku Kōgei. I See All, Vol. 3, No. 8, Aug. 1933, p. 2.
  • 16 Renshichirō Kawakita: “Chūshō kōsei renshū no memo,” in: Kenchiku Kōgei. I See All, Vol. 3, No. 8, Aug. 1933, p. 17.
  • 17 Renshichirō Kawakita: “Kōsei kyōiku ni tsuite,” in: Kenchiku Kōgei. I See All, Vol. 3, No. 8, Aug. 1933, p. 10.
  • 18 Ibid., p. 13.
  • 19 “Senmon kyōiku o teōkiyō seyo,” in: Kenchiku Kōgei. I See All, Vol. 3, No. 10, Oct. 1933, p. 1.
  • 20 “Kōsei kyōiku no page,” in: Kenchiku Kōgei. I See All, Vol. 5, No. 1, Jan. 1933, p. 65.
  • 21 Renshichirō Kawakita: “Zukaishiki tenpo sekkei chinretsu zenshū 1. Monasu,” 1940, p. 494.
  • 22 Renshichirō Kawakita: “Kōsei kyōiku to sono kisozuke toshiteno Gestalt shinrigaku,” in: Kenchiku Kōgei. I See All, Vol. 3, No. 8, Aug. 1933, p. 2.
  • 23 Kawakita: “Zukaishiki tenpo”, 1940, p. 103.
  • 24 Renshichirō Kawakita: “Shōshōten mohan sekkeisshū ni soete,” in: Kenchiku Kōgei. I See All, Vol. 4, No. 11, Nov. 1934, p. 1.
  • 25 Renshichirō Kawakita: Tenposekkei no jissai, Seibundo Shikosha, Tokyo 1937, p. 299.
  • 26 Editor’s note: The editors of bauhaus imaginista would like to express our interest and curiosity regarding how Kawakita, in the span of a little over a decade, changed from a utopian architect and designer to an efficiency expert who’s work actively supported Japan’s war effort. In doing so, we are not offering a historical judgment, but rather, expressing the hope that further research on Kawakit’s life and work will reveal additional clues as to why and how his youthful communist ideals transformed so completely into a pragmatism that allowed him to fully embrace the Japanese war effort, and, as Professor Umemiya notes below, allowed him to view the function of technology within society with a rationalism that seems, with hindsight, quite in keeping with the techno-rationalistic spirit of the age.
  • 27 Fukujiro Gōtō: Ibara no michi, Bunka Kensetsusha, Tokyo 1945, pp. 42–43.
  • 28 Yutaka Yamagata: Nihon bijutsu kyōikushi, Reimei Shōbō, Nagoya 1967, p. 700.
  • 29 Renshichirō Kawakita: “Chūshū kōsei renshū no memo,” in: Kenchiku Kōgei. I See All, Vol. 4, No. 11, Nov. 1934, p. 17.
  • 30 Renshichirō Kawakita: “Mudai,” in: Kenchiku Gahō, Vol. 20, No. 7, Jul. 1929, p. 20.
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Gropius wrote his Bauhaus manifesto shortly after the end of World War I. The German empire had collapsed, Russia had undergone a revolution and a second revolution in Germany was in the process of being suppressed. Throughout Germany people felt the necessity for a social and intellectual change. → more

Walter Gropius’ Bauhaus-Manifest

Das Bauhaus wandte sich von Anfang an vom Nationalismus ab und dem Kosmopolitismus und Internationalismus zu, eine Orientierung, die es schließlich mit dem emporkommenden Nationalsozialismus in Widerspruch brachte. Die Schule korrespondierte auch mit zeitgenössischen Bildungsinitiativen in anderen Teilen der Welt, darunter die Kala Bhavan (Kunstschule) in Santiniketan, Indien. Das Bauhaus wirkte durch seine Schriften und Studierenden auch auf andere Schulen in Japan. → more

“The Art!—That’s one Thing! When it’s there” — On the History of the Arbeitsrat für Kunst in the Early Weimar Republic

Even though the progressive artists of the interwar period ultimately failed in their plan to realize the new, egalitarian society they had envisioned, their influence was lasting. The international avant-garde produced some of the most important artists of the twentieth century. Meanwhile, some members of the Arbeitsrat für Kunst (Workers council for art) occupied important positions at the Bauhaus—above all, its founding director Walter Gropius. → more

Towards a Tangible Pedagogy — Dimensions of Tactility at the Bauhaus

In the epistemic context of a fundamental skepticism towards the existing knowledge system, the Bauhaus school was in pursuit of “unlearning”: dismissing conventional learning and promoting pre- linguistic, intuitive approaches- which also led to adoptions of non-academic modes of perception and included an interest in pre-modern knowledge systems. → more

Shifting, Rotating, Mirroring 
 — Lena Bergner’s Minutes of Paul Klee’s Classes

Lena Bergner developed carpet patterns applying specific methods learned from Paul Klee discernible in her finished work. The results, however, are quite unique. This is precisely what Klee sought to achieve with his classes at the Bauhaus: to point to paths of design so that the formal language is not arbitrary, without, however, prescribing predetermined outcomes. → more

Bauhaus Weimar International — Visions and Projects 1919–1925

Although the Bauhaus opened its door in 1919, it took more than three years for Gropius to fully organize the school’s faculty, since with the departure of several of the old art school’s professors, such as Max Thedy, Richard Engelmann and Walther Klemm, open positions had to be regularly filled. But Gropius’s first appointments indicated the course set toward an international avant-garde school, a school of invention. → more

Gertrud Grunow’s Theory of Harmonization — A Connection between European Reform Pedagogy and Asian Meditation?

In this essay Linn Burchert sheds some light on the darkness obscuring Grunow’s practice by presenting the background and details of Grunow’s teaching, concluding by examining the striking parallels between her harmonization teaching and meditative and yogic practices, which had already been introduced at the Bauhaus in Johannes Itten’s preliminary course. → more

Three Preliminary Courses: Itten, Moholy-Nagy, Albers

It was the special qualities of the Swiss artist Johannes Itten, whose career as a primary and secondary school teacher was characterized by adherence to the principles of reform pedagogy, to have introduced a stabilizing structural element into the still unstable early years of the Bauhaus: the preliminary course which—in addition to the dual concept of teaching artistic and manual skills and thinking—was to remain a core part of Bauhaus pedagogy, despite considerable historical changes and some critical objections, until the closure of the school in 1933. → more

●Artist Text
Open Your Eyes — Breathing New Life Into Bauhaus Papercuts

My artistic practice working primarily with abstract folded paper objects led me to Josef Albers and his similar obsession with paper as an instructional medium. Initially looking for pleated paper forms and to learn more about the history of these techniques, I have since been swept up in the maelstrom of Albers' pedagogical mindset. It’s difficult to look at one area of his thinking and not get pulled into many other directions, finding yourself challenged at every turn. → more

A Mystic Milieu — Johannes Itten and Mazdaznan at Bauhaus Weimar

Mazdaznan had a significant although often misunderstood impact on the life and work of Johannes Itten, a key figure in the development of the Weimar Bauhaus. A devout practitioner of Mazdaznan, he was responsible for introducing it to students of the Bauhaus in the early 1920s. This essay explores the intimate relationship between Itten, Mazdaznan and the Bauhaus and, in so doing, also underscores how in its infancy the Bauhaus was very different from its later incarnation as a school associated primarily with technical innovation. → more

Johannes Itten and Mazdaznan at the Bauhaus

Having experimented with Mazdaznan’s teachings on nutrition, breathing and character while studying at the Stuttgart Academy of Art (1913–16), Johannes Itten used these findings for the first time as a “teaching and educational system” while directing his Viennese painting school (1916–19). By 1918/19 at the latest (still before his move to the Bauhaus), Itten had also learned about Mazdaznan’s racial model. But how did the racialist worldview of the Swiss Bauhaus “master” affect Bauhaus practice? → more

●Artist Text
The Egyptian Postures

In the late nineteenth century the self-styled Dr. Otoman Zar-Adusht Ha'nish founded Mazdaznan, a quasi-religious movement of vegetarian diet and body consciousness, which flourished across the USA and Europe until the 1940's. The Egyptian Postures is a guide to the most advanced Mazdaznan exercises that Johannes Itten taught his students at the Bauhaus. This edition of Dr. Otoman Zar-Adusht Ha'nish’s original instructions has been newly edited and illustrated by Ian Whittlesea with images of actor Ery Nzaramba demonstrating the postures. → more

The Bauhaus, the Nazis and German Post War Nation Building Processes

On 4 May 1968 the exhibition 50 Years of the Bauhaus was opened at the Württembergischer Kunstverein in Stuttgart. Designed by Herbert Bayer and conceived amongst others by Hans Maria Wingler and Ludwig Grote, the exhibition was shown in eight museums worldwide until 1971. To this day, it is considered one of the most influential post-war exhibitions on the Bauhaus and was of great significance in the course of the nation building process for the still-young Federal Republic. Fifty years later the Württembergischer Kunstverein undertook a critical rereading of the historical exhibition, which created a long-term image and brand of Bauhaus that has been and still needs to be called in question: not least in such a year of jubilation. → more

●Artist Text
The Legacies of the Bauhaus — For the Present and the Future

“My method of bringing new life to archival images is to look at what happens at the margins rather than the center of a picture. I am also obsessed with making links, based on the belief that everything is connected. And also with what I call ‘narrative environments,’ mediating spaces facilitating new forms of engagement.” Luca Frei is a commissioned artist for bauhaus imaginista: Corresponding With. He talks about his approach to his installation for the exhibition at MoMAK in Kyoto. → more

The Bauhaus and the Tea Ceremony

The impact of the Bauhaus teaching methods reached far beyond Germany. Conversely, throughout its existence, a Japanese sensibility permeated the Bauhaus, springing from the Japonisme of individual professors, until its closure in 1933. This article analyzes the reciprocal impact of German and Japanese design education in the interbellum period in order to shed new light on the tightly knit network of associations then connecting Japan and Europe. → more

Johannes Itten’s Interest in Japanese Ink Painting — Shounan Mizukoshi and Yumeji Takehisa’s Japanese ink painting classes at the Itten-Schule

It’s widely known that Johannes Itten had an interest in Asian philosophy and art. He had a series of fruitful encounters with Japanese artists while leading his Itten-Schule art institute in Berlin (1926–34). In this article Yoshimasa Kaneko presents his research of these exchanges: In 1931 Nanga painter Shounan Mizukoshi taught Japanese ink painting in Nanga style at the Itten-Schule; in 1932 Jiyu Gakuen students Mitsuko Yamamuro and Kazuko Imai (Married name: Sasagawa) studied there; and finally, in 1933 the painter and poet Yumeji Takehisa also taught Japanese ink painting (including Nanga style) at Itten’s invitation. → more

“The Attack on the Bauhaus” — A Collage that Became a Symbol of the Closure of the Bauhaus

For the Yamawaki couple, their studies at the Dessau Bauhaus ended with the closure of the Dessau site. Iwao’s luggage for his return home also included his collage Der Schlag gegen das Bauhaus. It was first published in the architecture magazine Kokusai kenchiku in December 1932. Iwao let the collage speak for itself, publishing it without comment. → more

●Artist Work
The O Horizon — A Film Produced for bauhaus imaginista

The Otolith Group have been commissioned to produce The O Horizon for bauhaus imaginista, a new film containing studies of Kala Bhavana as well as the wider environments of Santiniketan and Sriniketan. Through rare footage of art, craft, music and dance, it explores the material production of the school and its community as well as the metaphysical inclinations that guided Tagore’s approach to institution building. → more

A Virtual Cosmopolis — Bauhaus and Kala Bhavan

The Bauhaus is renowned for its contribution to modernist architecture and design. Less known but equally significant is its pioneering role in opening up a transcultural network that created the conditions for global conversations on art and design as early as the 1920s. → more

Reclaiming the National — Against Nationalism

The question of how one resists populist nationalism is both obvious and fiendishly difficult. This sounds like a paradoxical proposition, and, indeed, it is. I am inspired by an early critique of nationalism which bears an uncanny resonance in today’s world: a critique that was made in 1916 by the Bengal poet and visionary, Rabindranath Tagore, during a lecture tour in Japan, in the midst of the First World War. → more

Sriniketan and Beyond — Arts and Design Pedagogy in the Rural Sphere

In this article Natasha Ginwala examines how certain Bauhaus ideas flowed into Tagore’s pedagogic experiment and rural reconstruction program at Sriniketan (created in 1921–22), as well as the engagement with design Dashrath Patel, the founding secretary of the National Institute of Design (NID) and its leading pedagogue, pursued in the rural sphere. → more

Santiniketan — Rules of Metaphor and Other Pedagogic Tools

This essay was occasioned by the Delhi exhibition of the Hangzhou chapter of bauhaus imaginista and the accompanying seminar in December 2018. The overarching brief of the seminar was to discuss the pedagogic aspects of schools in various parts of the world that are relatable to the practices of Bauhaus. Specifically, the essay attempts to capture the foundational moments of Kala Bhavana, the art school in Santiniketan that, incidentally, also steps into its centenary year in 2019. → more

●Text Compilation
News from Santiniketan — A Text Compilation of Educational Texts from Santiniketan

Unlike the Bauhaus, Kala Bhavana had no written manifesto or curriculum. However, a corpus of writing developed around the school, largely produced by the school’s artists and teachers. The academic Partha Mitter, whose own writing has explored the interplay between the struggle against colonialism, modernism, and the cultural avant-garde in India, has selected a group of texts on education in Santiniketan. → more

Bauhaus Calcutta

ln December 1922, ‘The Fourteenth Annual Exhibition of the lndian Society of Oriental Art’ was held at Samavaya Bhavan, number seventeen Park Street. Paintings by artists from the ‘Bengal school’—all of them members of the lndian Society of Oriental Arts—were exhibited. Most of these artists painted in a manner, which would have been recognisable as that school’s invention, a particularly lndian signature style, with mythology as preferred subject. Hung on the other side of the hall was a large selection of works from the Bauhaus.  → more

●Video and Introduction
Ritwik’s Ramkinker — A Film in the Process

Ritwik Ghatak’s film Ramkinker Baij: A Personality Study on the sculptor from Santiniketan is like a spurt, a sudden expression of ebullient enthusiasm from a friend, who is said to have shared artistic affinities with him. Incidentally, it also registers, through a conversational method, the process of discovering the artist, who was embedded, organic, yet global and most advanced for his time. → more

●Artist Work
Anna Boghiguian — A Play to Play

The works from Anna Boghiguian shown here are from an installation commissioned by the Institute of International Visual Arts (Iniva) titled A Play to Play as part of the exhibition Tagore’s Universal Allegories in 2013. These works incorporate elements associated with Tagore, from the artist’s frequent visits to Santiniketan. → more

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