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Being a good son, and a great architect

JUDGING from the way Japanese homes and cities work, it’s almost as if Japanese architects see spaces — and the very idea of what spaces are, or do — differently than most people do.

Paul Noritake Tange has a very distinguished pedigree. His education alone deserves some mention: he has a master’s degree in Architecture from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. But then, it might all be a matter of genetics: his father was Kenzo Tange, the designer of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, winner of the Pritzker Prize for Architecture, and designer of Japan’s Yoyogi National Gymnasium. His son Paul, who delivered a presentation for Philippine audiences on Sept. 7, meanwhile, designed the Tokyo Aquatics Center for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics — two Olympic structures then stand in the same city, from different generations of the same family.

Mr. Tange appeared in a Zoom meeting to introduce his project, the Grand Midori Ortigas, a two-tower condominium with over 908 housing units build by Federal Land Inc. in a forum titled “Japanese Architecture: The Synergy of Culture and Design.” Mr. Tange recalled meeting Federal Land Chair Alfred Ty as a young man. “We carry on the legacy of important fathers,” said Mr. Tange, speaking about the late Metrobank founder George Ty, Alfred’s father.

The story of fathers and legacy ran deep in the forum. Mr. Tange recalled his joy on being approached to design the 2020 Tokyo Aquatics Center. “I personally was very happy, because we have tried, before getting to 2020 — we tried for the Olympic village for the Beijing Olympics (2008).” His father, who died in 2005, was still alive during the planning stages. “I thought it would be nice to report to my father — he was already sick in bed at that time — to let him know that we are good enough to design another Olympic venue. Unfortunately, that did not happen.”

Since being approached by the 2020 Aquatics Center Commission, as well as seeing the building finished and put to use, Mr. Tange said, “I have visited my father’s resting place and reported to him. ‘Here we are. This is a building that we have designed’.”

The Grand Midori in Ortigas follows a motif of a series of weaves and screens, typical of Japanese architecture. Screens are a leitmotif of Mr. Tange’s work, appearing as well at the Tokyo Aquatics Cener. “These are the very fine Japanese details: sensitive and very fine. Even though the building is very large, you don’t feel it is very large,” he said, speaking about the Aquatics Center, which also takes its cues from images of Japanese bamboo forests.

“We try to interpret Japanese culture in modern style. We cannot use typical temple architecture in modern architecture. What we do is we try to understand, interpret Japanese culture into architecture to create something modern and new. This is what we consider our mission,” he said.

Take into account his father’s 1964 Olympics venue, the Yoyogi National Gymnasium. He took inspiration from big Japanese roofs. Inside, the senior Tange used suspension structures usually used for bridges to create a venue seemingly without columns, so audiences on both sides can see and “feel” each other. “The whole idea was to share the energy of people underneath.”

For the 2020 Aquatics Center, he maintained the same seamless relationship between athlete and spectator by, again, eliminating columns that would impede the view of the audience. “Everybody shared one space — united space.”

In designing the swimming pool, he interviewed Olympic swimmers “to find out what is considered a good swimming pool.” Apparently, domed ceilings are out of the question. “It’s important to have a straight line,” he said. “Dome-like space is no good. People will get confused, and you will lose time.” While he designed the ceiling of the Aquatics Center to have origami-like motifs, he thought it important for straight lines to be present, in order to serve as a guide to swimmers. “We’re talking one-hundredths of a second; one-thousandths of a second.”

On his own Olympic venue, he said, “It’s a different interpretation, but I’m a good son. I learned from my father and I continue. I think that’s a good thing about Asian culture. We learn from the generation before and we carry on.” — Joseph L. Garcia


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