HOW METABOLIST IDEAS COULD BECOME THE SOLUTION TO SEA-LEVEL RISE VULNERABILITY

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How can Metabolist ideas potentially solve Miami's sea- level rise vulnerability ?

By Wesley Kean, Principal, KoDA

There has been some recent momentum on the discussion of sea-level rise in Miami. More often than not, however, the conversation turns apocalyptic very quickly.  After all, this is an overwhelming subject and one with many physical, emotional and political challenges that force many to avoid the topic altogether.  In search of the “silver lining,” I stumbled across Metabolism, a post-war manifesto by Japanese architects in pursuit of an entirely new urbanism. 

In order to understand how Metabolism can be a prescriptive solution to cities confronting sea-level rise, one must first understand it's fundamental concept.  The notion of Metabolism is to conceive the growth of the city as a biological condition, much like the cell division of elements found in nature.  The Metabolists wanted to transcend what they referred to as "continental civilization," and conceptualized floating cities along the pacific to become Japan’s newest Archipelago.   After the devastation of Hiroshima, they determined a need to abandoned man’s desperate obligation to land, and liberate our cities from their constraints to terra firma. At the time, this stood in stark contrast to the Modernist framework of urbanism and resulted in ideas about artificial land, pelagic civilization, and megastructures to support group form.

Why is this important within the Miami context? Well, because once you detach the built environment from the ground plane, the threshold, boundary, or "edge" suddenly becomes irrelevant. The current focus on re-building our seawalls higher and higher as the water continues to rise in interminable. However, I would argue that rather than resist, we should allow the natural course of the water to follow it’s determined path, because knowing the issue in advance makes us capable of anticipating it, and utilizing the technology of today to adapt to it.  The answer is not in Venice, not in Amsterdam, and certainly not in New Orleans, but in a post-war Japan. A time where architects were forced to become critical thinkers, re-inventors of urbanization, and archetypes as we know them.

  Sky House by Kiyonori Kikutake- Japan 1958

Sky House by Kiyonori Kikutake- Japan 1958

Metabolist’s like Kiyonori Kikutake first tested these ideas of “artificial ground” and “changeability” in the design of his own “Sky House,” in 1958.  Perched on a steep hill in northwest Tokyo the house was initially designed as a single story slab elevated by four tall concrete panels.  Rather than locate the structure at the corners, these wide columns stand in the middle of each side, allowing the suspended volume to float over the landscape.  The building was designed to evolve, and provides flexibility for space arrangement with the possibility of future additions and renovation.  In fact, the house had been built onto, renovated and reconfigured a total of 7 times in almost 60 years since being built.  As children were born, “move-nets,” could be added to the underbelly of the slab, and then later removed as the children grew.  It was with this house that Kikutake and the Metabolists first explored the idea of a building, which responds organically to its physical and programmatic demands.  These concepts are what transcended scale and led to his series of futuristic urban projects, including “Tower-Shaped City” and “Marine City.”

  Kenzo Tange, A Plan for Tokyo (Bay) 1960-1961

Kenzo Tange, A Plan for Tokyo (Bay) 1960-1961

At the urban scale, the leader of the movement, Kenzo Tange had completed a Plan for Tokyo in 1960, which may prove to be the most relevant prototype for resilient cities.  Often described as “The Future City over the Sea,” Tange presented his vision of a “New Tokyo” through the reclamation of Tokyo Bay.  A series of loops, elevated 30km above the sea were interconnected via an elevated highway system.  Starting by framing the existing city center of Tokyo, these links formed a linear network of infrastructure that expanded entirely across the bay reaching the opposite shore in Chiba.  The central links would contain a new civic center and a port, surrounded by bridge-like office buildings spanning from a grid of large towers.  Arterial freeways emit from the central spine and connect to clusters of residential units that spread over the bay in the form of irimoya, the traditional form of a Japanese roof.  Consistent with the concepts of the Sky House, these mega structures would serve as artificial grounds upon which residents could build their own houses.

  Kenzo Tange 1960 Plan for Tokyo

Kenzo Tange 1960 Plan for Tokyo

Once we realize that we can detach and liberate our cities from the ground plane, the location of the edge, or boundary becomes less important.  Urbanization and development becomes limitless.  We have the ability to change the social narrative on sea-level rise from one of fear to one of new opportunity and optimism.  Adapting Metabolist principals and thinking radically about the future development of our city has never been more important.