Metabolism: from utopian urbanism to neoliberal capitalism

The colossal destruction of Japanese cities such as Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the Second World War created a feeling of desolation and depression that was soon filled by a rising architectural philosophy. In the 1960s, Japanese society became a fertile ground for the development of a new conceptualisation of architecture within the city landscape.

It is in these circumstances that a group of architects founded a movement called Metabolism. Their perception of architecture, as Lin analyses in the book Kenzo Tange and the Metabolist Movement, ‘suggested [that] the city would grow and transform in a manner like the evolution and metamorphosis of an organism’ (2010, p.1).

Their utopian view was concealed within this new idea of dynamic urbanisation, echoing the recent technological discoveries that witnessed a momentous economic growth in Japan. Furthermore, their architectural conception was based on a mega scale as yet unseen.

As Deyong describes, ‘the megastructure represented a new vision of modernity unhindered by the social and technical constraints of the past’ (2002, p.24), as being a testimony to the postwar enthusiasm as well as against the mechanical concept of order.

The desire of metamorphosis in the urban structure contrasted the “age of the machine” by facing a new direction: “the age of life”. The Metabolist group believed that ‘communal spaces in the ideal future city … would establish democratic relationships’ (Tamari, 2014 p.209). In other words, they thought that by designing the total plan of a city they could be able to shape the society itself. 

This new vision of modernity inspired projects like the Helix City (1961) by Kisho Kurokawa, a DNA-shaped vertical city and Kiyonori Kikutake’s Floating City (1959). The majority of their ideas, though, never turned into practice due to the high ‘business competitiveness and the expansion of people’s financial capacities along with the development of modern consumer culture’ (Tamari, 2014 p.211).


helix city 2.jpg
Kisho Kurukawa, Helix City (1961).


This condition drove Metabolists’ philosophical orientation into neoliberal capitalism. Furthermore, it pushed them away from the conviction that a city could organically evolve in a way to be predicted since the city and the society themselves are an unpredictable apparatus that could not be ideally planned – likewise organic metabolism in nature.



Deyong, S. (2002). Memories of the Urban Future: The Rise and Fall of the Megastructure. MOMA, (2) p.24.

Lin, Z. (2010). Kenzo Tange and the Metabolist movement. 1st ed. London: Routledge p.1.

Tamari, T. (2014). Metabolism: Utopian Urbanism and the Japanese Modern Architecture Movement. 31st ed. London: Goldsmiths, University of London p.209-211.


Graphic by Marta De Prisco

Helix City. (2017). [image] Available at:,d.d2s&psig=AFQjCNFEhP25jT5eWGlxI___7aG9_ePgMg&ust=1485949850188823 [Accessed 31 Jan. 2017].


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s