St Mary’s Cathedral Tokyo, 1964

Kenzo Tange's masterpiece

Tange's cathedral: traditional plan oversailed by roof of hyperbolic paraboloids.
Tange's cathedral: traditional plan oversailed by roof of hyperbolic paraboloids. · Credit: RIBA Library Photographs Collection

2015 marks 50 years since Kenzo Tange was awarded the RIBA Royal Gold Medal for his services to the advancement of architecture. The architect was heavily influenced by international modernism and especially the work of Le Corbusier, and played a crucial role in defining Japan’s architecture after World War Two. 

Tange’s work, in particular his ideas about the architecture of cities, formed the foundation of the Metabolist architectural movement that sprang out of 1960s Japan. Metabolism emerged from a period of economic recovery for Japan following the war and was an architecture based on the concept that, like living organisms, buildings and metropolises should keep growing and evolving in response to their environments.

One of Tange’s most notable buildings is St Mary’s Cathedral in Tokyo, his 1964 replacement for the original catholic cathedral of 1889 which had been destroyed during air raids on the city in 1945. His design marries a traditional cruciform plan with a strikingly innovative roof made up of eight hyperbolic paraboloids, inspired by Corb’s Chandigarh Legislative Assembly, opening outwards diagonally to form a central cross-shaped window allowing light to pierce the interior from above.