Concrete in Japan from 1945 to Tadao Ando: From Detail and Intimacy to Mega Structure Essay

Concrete in Japan from 1945 to Tadao Ando: From Detail and Intimacy to Mega Structure

            1945 was the year that marked the end of the Second World War - Concrete in Japan from 1945 to Tadao Ando: From Detail and Intimacy to Mega Structure Essay introduction. The years that came after that became a period of reconstruction for the countries that had been heavily damaged in the war. Japan was one those countries. Having been one of the major players in the war from the Axis Powers, the country was the target of many destructive Allied raids and bombing attacks, the biggest, most historical, and most destructive of which were the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. These remain to date the first and only instances for an Atomic bomb to be used in a real military attack against an opposing nation. These nuclear weapons are the weapons for mass destruction. These attacks devastated those two cities; the destruction spanned miles in radius, and continued to kill and take the lives of many more Japanese even years after their detonation, not just at the point of detonation but reaching even to surrounding cities due to the deadly radiation it has spread. These made those years after the war a period of major recovery and reconstruction for Japan.

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            Many Japanese houses, buildings, and other infrastructures were particularly susceptible to damage and destruction during the war. This is mainly because many of these structures were made of wood (Harada, J., 1954). Wood can easily catch fire, and fire and easily spread through wood. Because of the many wooden structures in Japan back then, Fires ignited by a single bomb attack could easily spread though a larger area and create more destruction than the explosion from the bomb alone could have.

Wood was a traditional construction material in Japan. But after all that destruction brought upon them by the war, they had to make some changes, they had to adapt with the times. Such destruction upon their country should never happen again even in the face of another war, calamity, or any other destructive force. The fast modernizing world during that period gave the Japanese many options. Communication and transportation has greatly improved in the modern world. Modern communication and transportation has made global interaction almost instant. Influences from one country could now easily spread to another, even without consciously doing so. The Japanese people give very high regard for their culture and traditions. But even they had to welcome a few foreign influences for their own benefit. They adapted a certain western invention that would be instrumental for the rebuilding and strengthening of Japan – concrete.

Concrete (from the Latin word “concretus” meaning hard or hardened) is the combination of various types of sand or gravel fused and solidified together by a mixture of cement and water (Branston, H., 2005). It is a synthetic construction material. Cement is a powdery substance which is made up of various rocks, ash, and minerals that when mixed with water, bonds with each other then solidify into a rock in a process called hydration. Additional aggregates such as sand, crushed stones or rocks, gravel, slag, or various chemical mixtures can also be added to the cement and water to add strength, density or texture to the concrete depending on what the concrete is to be used for. Usually, finer aggregates are used for smoother concrete surfaces, and coarser aggregates for stronger concrete used for large structures.

Concrete starts off in an unhardened form. This is what makes is so versatile. It can be used in the construction of so many things such as roads, bridges, buildings, houses, pavements, dams, posts, monuments, etc. It has become a sort of flexible and adaptable type of stone that can be shaped, mixed, formed and molded depending on how it is needs to be. Since the development of its modern form in 1756, it has been a very big factor in improving construction and architecture all over the world.

Europe and other western countries who were also victims of the war sustained many structural damages as well. The damages they sustained however were substantially less than that of Japan primarily because structures in western countries were primarily made of concrete. Concrete structures, though heavily damaged in the war, and unless it was hit by a powerful bomb, would still remain standing intact. With a little cleaning and renovation, it would be ready to be used again, unlike the wooden structures in Japan that were completely decimated by fires during the war. Japan saw the necessity to adapt concrete.

For a city in ruins after a war, one of the first things that need to be rebuilt are houses, buildings and various infrastructures because they provide one of the most basic needs of man – shelter. Reconstruction periods become a haven for architects (Harada, J, 1954). Some famous architects that stood out during those times are Maekawa Kunio and Kenzo Tange. Their services were greatly needed by their nation. They would be serving their country and could be try out many of their new designs and ideas at the same time. And with a new and versatile construction material such as concrete at their dispense. Many of these Japanese architects at that time also were influenced by many western techniques and ideas in architecture.

New western materials combined with new western techniques, there is just so much these architects could do, and it was reflected in their works. It did not take long for many new buildings were constructed enabling Japan to run as a country again. However, the new Japan that was being formed heavily contrasted the traditional look of Japan. Instead of being reconstructed, Japan was more like being recreated. The old wooden structures are now being replaced by steel reinforced concrete ones.

Japan is geographically located within the Pacific ring of fire. This made the country prone to earthquakes. Aside from turning their structures more fire proofed, the use of reinforced concrete also enabled Japanese structures to be more resistant of the frequent tremors they encounter.

Concrete also enabled the construction mega structures and skyscrapers. Some of these include the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku, the NTT DoCoMo Yoyogi Building in Sendagaya, the Yokohama Landmark Tower in Minato Mirai 21, the Tokyo Midtown Tower in Minato, the National Gymnasium in Yoyogi Park, the Mori Tower in Roppongi, the Tokyo Stock Exchange in Tokyo, and the Umeda Sky Building in Osaka. Many of those buildings served as Government and business offices, the others, such as the National Gymnasium which was built in 1969 and was the venue for the swimming and diving events of the Summer Olympics of the same year, provided tourism for the country. These new buildings whose architecture became possible with the use of concrete were instrumental in contributing to the fast recovery of Japan’s economy.

The use of concrete in Japanese architecture advanced even further when Tadao Ando and his postmodernist designs entered the architecture scene in Japan. He combined the traditional Japanese with his modern designs. But more than that, he popularized the use of cast-in-place concrete in many of his designs while maintaining the Japanese sense of materiality in architecture (Ando, T., 1999).

Cast-in-wall concrete is when instead of having the concrete blocks or segments are pre-formed and then installed and reinforced to form the building being constructed, the unhardened concrete is placed or poured directly in a cast that is fixed in the area and in the shape and form it is intended to be with the steel reinforcements in it already. The cast will be removed when the concrete hardens. After this is done, the concrete will have solidified into its intended shape and form in its intended placement. It would be like, instead of using Lego parts and blocks to slowly form a house, we would instead pour in liquid wax into a mold of a house, or a certain segment of the house, and when it hardens and the mold is removed, the house or segment is already formed right where it should be. This method adds durability to the structure and efficiency to the construction process. This is commonly used in making walls, support foundations, roofs, floors, beams, bridges, etc (Duntemann, J. F., 2007).

Tadao Ando preferred to make the structure conform with its landscape rather than to alter the landscape to accommodate the need of his design which is why he always considered the landscape in his designs. The environment and landscape is very much a part of his overall design. His designs are unique to its location and cannot be recreated anywhere else. The cast-in-place concrete method is the best method for the design he is trying to accomplish. And for those new architects that were influenced by him, the cast-in-place concrete method was a must.

Many of his works used cast-in-place concrete. One of his early works that used cast-in-place concrete was the Row House in Sumiyoshi. It is a small two-storey house that was completed in 1976. His other works include the Honpuku Temple, the Azuma house, the Rokko housings one and two, the Times Gallery, the Mt. Rokko Chapel, the Galleria Akka, the Westin Awaji Island, the Hyogo Prefecture Museum of Art, the Kobe Waterfront Plaza (built with the Hyogo Museum of Art), and the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts (Ando, T., 1999).

Using Cast-in-place concrete is proven make a structure sturdier and more resistant to various forces and elements in the environment. This makes the whole building safer, particularly for high rise buildings. Its vertical system can sustain heavy loads while its horizontal system is resistant to wind and seismic occurrences; perfect for earthquake prone Japan. And aside from the many pragmatic and safety benefits of using cast-in-place concrete, it also looks beautiful. It hardens with a smooth finish thus making it a good façade for the building already.

Nowadays, Japan is known as the land of construction and concrete (Dodd, J., 2007). Anyone who has been there can attest to that. Especially in the major business districts, there is nowhere you can look without seeing a concrete structure. Concrete has contributed greatly to Japan’s development. During the 90’s, the Japanese government devoted a large sum of their funds to the construction of major infrastructures and to the purchase of concrete which is the raw material needed for that. The versatility of concrete has made it an indispensable necessity for the Japanese. Many breakthroughs in concrete technology have also enabled architects to design even larger and higher structures.

Japan also did not just adapt the concrete technology and architectural designs using concrete from the west. Japan, being one of the world leaders in technological developments has contributed a lot to the further development of concrete and its use. Japan is now considered to be the leader in the designing and construction of high-quality housings and public facilities that are made of concrete. And these premium structures all employ the cast-in-place concrete method which was popularized by Tadao Ando.

In contributing to the development of concrete, the Japan Concrete Institute has been established. The institute was established in July of 1965 and was then called the Japan National Council on Concrete and was renamed with its current designated name in May of 1975. Its purpose is to, “carry out investigation and research on concrete, reinforced concrete, other types of concrete and various materials and equipment related to concrete, and through coordination of investigations and research and dissemination of the results, aims to further research and advances in technology concerning concrete.” (Japan Concrete Institute, 2008)

The Institute also conducts researches concerning risk management for concrete structures, performance evaluation of concrete under natural weathering, damage and fracture evaluation, prediction of other possible concrete materials and aggregates, and the method for guarantee of ready-mixed concrete. (Japan Concrete Institute, 2008)

However, it still remains that nothing is perfect, that all things will expire someday, and that the only thing that is constant is change. Even with how much Japan has advanced with the development of concrete, their concrete structures as some point still sustains damages. In theory, concrete should last in good condition for up to 50 or 60 years. In Japan however, many concrete buildings torn down or renovated after about 25 to 30 years in order to adhere to the constantly changing earthquake regulations in building designs. As breakthroughs are discovered on resisting earthquakes, these regulations need to constantly change with it. Aside from that Japan’s severely polluted air also shortens the lifetime of concrete there. More than 25 years of exposure to the acidic air in Japan can crack and discolor concrete exteriors reddening the whole structure unsafe. Demolishing those damages buildings seem to be a lot cheaper than to have it repaired.

Prevention is better than cure; the Japanese tries to develop preventive measures before the concrete gets heavily damaged and is rendered unsafe. A possible preventive measure for these damages would be to use a sort of surface treatment or surface coating that would shield the concrete from various elements. That treatment should environmentally safe, inexpensive and easy to use, would not react to exposure to other elements or chemicals, and is not a health hazard.

One such substance had been developed before. This treatment however used a polymer mixture which was studied and found out to be somewhat hazardous to health. In recent years however, a certain new product which is a mixture of inorganic and water-based substances has been developed and should be safer for the health. It is currently being used in many buildings and other infrastructures in Japan today.

Japan has also developed many new and stronger forms of concrete. One such example is the superplasticizer. It is a type of high-strength concrete that was developed in Japan in the 1960’s. According to the Japan Society of Civil Engineers, a high-strength concrete is classified as such when it has the design strength of 60- 100 MPa; use that with the cast-in-place method, then strong and durable concrete structure is created. (Kawai, T., n.d.)

Seeing Japan today, and then reflecting of what WWII has caused the country, it is evident how much they have improved and developed. Concrete was very instrumental in this development for they would not have developed as such if they were not able to gloriously recreate and reconstruct their county and their society. It seems that they may have placed a high regard on concrete. They may have just adapted the technology of concrete to the Europeans back then, but they have contributed greatly to its further development throughout the years. They even founded an Institute devoted to the research and development of concrete.

Moreover, the cast-in-place concrete method was not a Japanese idea. It was not invented or developed by the Japanese. However, it was with the Japanese architect Tadao Ando that the method has come to be associated with the Japanese due to his artful use of the method in his architectural designs.

Japan surely did well in recovering from the war and adapting to the modern world. Worldwide, they are now one of the leaders in modern technology; more so in the field of mega structure construction and the efficient use of concrete.


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Dodd, J. (2007) Japan, the Land of Concrete. Japan Inc.: General Edition Sunday. June 24, 2007, Issue# 426

Duntemann, J. F. (2007) Building Envelope Design Guide – Cast-in-Place Concrete Wall Systems [Internet], Whole Building Design Guide. Available from: <> [Accessed 1, January 2009].

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Kawai, T. State-of-the-Art Report on High Strength Concrete in Japan: Recent Developments and Applications [Internet], Technical Department of Civil Engineering, Shimizu Corporation, Japan. Available from: <> [Accessed 4, January 2009]

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Roth, L.M. (1993) Understanding Architecture: Its Elements History and Meaning. Westview Press, Oxford, U.K.


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