Page N1.2 . 13 April 2005                     
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Two International Masters

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Tange's early thinking was influenced by Le Corbusier, as evidenced in his urban philosophy calling for comprehensive cities filled with megastructures that combine service and transportation elements. Other artistic influences included Italian Renaissance master Michelangelo and 20th-century German-American architect Walter Gropius.

Tange, in turn, was influential on the next generation of architects. His practice expanded to employ 130 architects around the world by the late 1980s, including architects now well known, such as Fumihiko Maki and Arata Isozaki.

Tange came to international attention in 1946 when he designed the master plan for rebuilding Hiroshima after its devastation during World War II. His design included a memorial and museum complex where the atomic bomb was dropped on August 6, 1945.

A recent review of his life by Reuters reports: "...Tange's trademark was a boldly spare and elegant style, blending Japanese and Western aesthetic principles... [He] captured the spirit of a rapidly developing Japan with his swooping 1964 Tokyo Olympic Stadium, often described as one of the most beautiful structures built in the 20th century."

Tange's designs evolved from an early nationalistic neotraditionalism into a structurally expressive modernism with references to traditional Japanese forms of architecture. Following the culmination of that phase in the great 1964 stadium, with St. Mary's Cathedral in Tokyo the same year, his work became more abstract, yet conceptually disciplined, as in the modular muscularity of the Yamanashi Press and Broadcasting Center, completed 1967. Yet even in the crisp 243 and 163 meter towers of his 1991 Tokyo City Hall, sophisticated regionalist expression is evident.

Kenzo Tange died of heart failure on March 22, 2005, at the age of 91.

Erskine's Legacy

Half a world away, and six days earlier, British-born Ralph Erskine died at the same age, leaving a comparable legacy of innovative architecture and urban planning. He was educated in London but practiced primarily in Sweden, where he was drawn before World War II by the work of Erik Gunnar Apslund and other progressive town planners.

After the war, he established a practice in Drottningholm, near Stockholm and developed a reputation for housing, schools, industrial buildings, and urban planning. Erskine's work has been described as an organic architecture inspired by both Swedish empiricism and British community planning.

Erskine experimented with involving user participation and was a 20th-century pioneer in now-fashionable environmental concerns, especially for cold-climate architecture. He developed a style based on response to climate using simple geometrical forms somewhat resembling the style of Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, whose buildings he greatly admired. His 1983 expressionist library for Stockholm University was designed in collaboration with Bengt Ahlqvist, Erick Mulbach and Peer-Ove Skanes.

Only later in life did Erskine expand his work and influence into his native Britain. In 1967, he designed several buildings for Clare Hall, the Cambridge postgraduate college; in the 1960s, the much admired Byker Housing Development near Newcastle upon Tyne; in 1990 The Ark in Hammersmith, London; and in 1998, Greenwich Millennium Village in southeast London.

Seeking a humane residential scale like that achieved by the builders of Georgian London, he favored medium-rise, high-density arrangements of terraces around public gardens.

In a recent issue of the Times Online, Erskine was quoted as saying: "Architecture and urban planning be it at macro or micro level, a private villa or an office block must not only be a showpiece of design and technology but also give expression to those democratic ideals of respect for human dignity, equality and freedom that are fostered in our society."

As his influence grew, Erskine traveled on lecture tours throughout Europe, the United States, Canada, and Japan. He was made an honorary fellow of the AIA in 1966 and of the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts in 1972. He was appointed "Commander of the British Empire" (CBE) in 1979 and was awarded the RIBA Gold Medal of Architecture in 1987.

Ralph Erskine died on March 16, 2005.

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Sculpture at the Hiroshima Peace Center, 1956, designed by Kenzo Tange.
Photo: Corel, c/o Artifice Images.

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At the Hiroshima Peace Center, 1956, designed by Kenzo Tange.
Photo: Leslie Corless, Artifice Images

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Stockholm University Library, designed by the late Ralph Erskine in collaboration with Bengt Ahlqvist, Erick Mulbach and Peer-Ove Skanes.
Great Buildings Photo Howard Davis

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Stockholm University Library, by Ralph Erskine.
Great Buildings Photo Howard Davis

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Stockholm University Library, by Ralph Erskine.
Great Buildings Photo Howard Davis

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Inside the Stockholm University Library, by Ralph Erskine.
Great Buildings Photo Howard Davis

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Clare Hall, Cambridge, United Kingdom, designed by Ralph Erskine.
Great Buildings Photo Howard Davis

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Clare Hall, Cambridge, by Ralph Erskine.
Great Buildings Photo Howard Davis

 

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