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  • John Barr

Do|Co|Mo|Mo|Japan|05 : Kagawa Prefectural Government Offices : Takamatsu : Kenzo Tange

Do|Co|Mo|Mo is an international organisation dedicated to the Documentation and Conservation of buildings, sites and neighbourhoods of the Modern Movement. The Japanese branch has selected 100 works as representative of the development of the Modern Movement in Japan.

In a series of short posts I will feature some of the selected works that I have had the chance to visit and photograph. This post features The Kagawa Prefectural Government Offices, East Building, built in 1958...

One Building, Two Governors

The story of the Kagawa Prefectural Government Offices is a tale of two governors.

Masanori Kaneko was the first democratically elected governor of Kagawa Prefecture following WWII and the introduction of the new Japanese constitution based on the draft prepared by the USA occupying force under General Douglas MacArthur (Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers).

Kaneko was enthusiastic about the expansion of democracy in Japan and wanted the new prefectural government offices to be the physical embodiment of democratic principles. The design was to be open, inclusive, collaborative and was to promote local arts and culture. It was also to be modern, and the team he assembled for the design consisted of modernists: the architect Kenzo Tange, the artist Genichiro Inokuma and the furniture designer Isamu Kenmochi.

Kaneko’s insistence on a collaborative approach and on the promotion of art and culture still resonates through the prefecture today. Kagawa prefecture, although the smallest in Japan, is home to a number of major museums and cultural events, including the garden museum for sculptures by Isamu Noguchi, the museum for the works of the artist Genichiro Inokuma, the internationally renowned art island of Naoshima and the Setouchi Triennale, an international arts festival that takes place across the islands of the Seto Inland Sea every three years.

Image based on Kasuma Yayoi's Pumpkin sculpture, which has become an iconic symbol of Naoshima Art Island

More than fifty years later the prefectural government offices are still successfully serving the community and the officials who work there, although they have been expanded by the addition of a tower block to the west, leading to the original building now being called The East Building. However, following the destruction caused by the Hyogoken-Nanbu Earthquake that destroyed much of Kobe and surrounding area in 1995 and the Great Tōhoku Earthquake that caused destruction from Tokyo to Sendai, including a meltdown at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant in 2011, the structural standards for disaster prevention base facilities in Japan (which would include government offices) were revised. The Kagawa Prefectural Government Offices, East Building no longer complies. I have noted in previous posts how the Japanese are not generally sentimental about such matters and the usual response to this kind of issue would be to scrap and rebuild.

Keizo Hamada is the governor faced with the task of determining the future of the Kagawa Prefectural Government Offices and, like his predecessor in 1958, he adopts a wide view of the value of public facilities, including community and cultural value, which he recognises as being embodied in the existing Government Offices through: the modern interpretation of traditional architectural elements, the positive use of space for public use, the integration of art and the presence of space rich with local influence.1 He sums all this up by stating that: The cultural value of the building has been confirmed at this time, and we should act to preserve it for the future.1

In 2011 Hamada convened the Committee for the Preservation and Improvement of Earthquake Resistance of the East Building, which included experts from the fields of seismic-resistant structures, history of design and architecture, culture, economics and mass communication. The committee reviewed a number of approaches, including demolition and rebuild, seismic strengthening and seismic isolation. In 2014 the committee reported and a decision was taken to pursue the option of seismic isolation, where the building superstructure is separated from its foundations and isolating dampers are inserted between the two. Whilst not the cheapest option this was seen as having the added merits of : preserving the current open-plan layout of the offices; preserving the inner and outer appearance of the building; having little impact on the cultural value of the building. Work began in 2018 and was completed in December 2019.

Kagawa Prefectural Government Offices : Kenzo Tange : 1958

Legislative building to right of shot, 8-storey tower in centre, later high-rise addition to left of shot.

Taken after completion of Earthquake Resistance works.


The design consists of two buildings: a long, low, legislative assembly building raised on two-storey high pilotis that runs along the east side of the site and a square, 8-storey tower (effectively a cube) that sits alongside it at the north end of the site. Between them they form two arms that shelter an internal garden that is entered through the porous gateway formed by the pilotis supporting the eastern building.

Kagawa Prefectural Government Offices : Kenzo Tange : 1958

Legislative building ahead, raised on pilots to allow porous access to garden. 8-storey tower to left of shot.

Taken after completion of Earthquake Resistance works.

Kagawa Prefectural Government Offices : Kenzo Tange : 1958

Plan of ground floor and garden.

The design team adopted the following strategies in order to realise the aspirations of Governor Masanori Kaneko:

Open and Inclusive

In contrast to the closed, authoritarian style that had previously been adopted for government buildings in Japan, the Kagawa Government Offices are designed to be both open-plan and open to the public.

The eastern building contains the legislative arm and assembly hall and is raised off the ground on two-storey high pilotis. The 8-storey tower consists of a double-height lobby at ground level (matching the height of the void beneath the eastern building) with offices above. Offices are open-plan and this is achieved by the use of a structural and services core running up through the centre of the building surrounded by open-plan floor plates. The square core contains stairs, elevators and toilets and also creates an earthquake resistant spine at the centre of the building. Main beams run from the edges of the core to the four facades, where they are supported on columns (two on each façade). The whole building is supported on the core and just twelve columns around the perimeter (the eight columns previously described plus one at each corner of the building). Narrow secondary beams run in both directions between the main beams, creating a close-grained grid for the flexible placement of internal partitions if required.

Kagawa Prefectural Government Offices : Kenzo Tange : 1958

Legislative building with later high-rise addition in background. The 8-storey tower sits between the two at the far end of the legislative building.

Kagawa Prefectural Government Offices : Kenzo Tange : 1958

Taken after completion of Earthquake Resistance works.

The 8-storey tower is supported on a central core and 12 columns around the perimeter. Main beams span between these vertical supports and narrow secondary beams run in both directions between the main beams.

Public spaces are created by the garden, the shaded area below the raised legislative building, the ground-floor lobby of the 8-storey tower and an open-air bar and café on its roof (this last seems, sadly, to have been discontinued at some point but early photographs show it as a popular and attractive space). All of these might seem commonplace now, but the idea that a facility that was paid for by the people should belong to the people, be open to the people and be operated for the benefit of the people was radical at that time in Japan. The model created at Kagawa became the template for all local government buildings that followed, if not in detail then in spirit.

Kagawa Prefectural Government Offices : Kenzo Tange : 1958

Two views of the public garden : Photo on left by Chizuko Konishi : Photo on right by Keiichi Masuda

Kagawa Prefectural Government Offices : Kenzo Tange : 1958

Public lobby of 8-storey tower

Note the grid of narrow secondary beams that allow partitions to be added if required.

Taken after completion of Earthquake Resistance works.

Kagawa Prefectural Government Offices : Kenzo Tange : 1958

Cafe/bar on roof of 8-storey tower : Photo by Koji Kamiya, who was a member of Tange's team working on the project.


From the beginning the design was a collaboration amongst architects, artists and furniture designers.

Artwork was provided by Genichiro Inokuma (2) and includes the mural in the main lobby entitled Wa-Kei-Sei-Jaku (和敬清寂) four characters that signify Harmony, Respect, Purity and Tranquillity, the four pillars of the tea ceremony.

Furniture in the public spaces was designed by Isamu Kenmochi (3) although some items of fixed furniture were designed by Tange’s office.

Kagawa Prefectural Government Offices : Kenzo Tange : 1958

Public lobby of 8-storey tower showing part of Genichiro Inokuma's mural Wa-Kei-Sei-Jaku (Harmony-Respect-Purity-Tranquillity) and some of Isamu Kenmochi's furniture

Taken after completion of Earthquake Resistance works.

Promotion of Local Arts and Culture

As noted above, art and furniture were incorporated as integral elements in the design, as were local materials and techniques such as tiles, stone and Kagawa Gotōnuri lacquer work on doors.

At a more fundamental level is Tange’s approach to the use and expression of structure. Most apparent is his adoption of a visually expressed post and beam structure, especially in his use of a few large beams supported on a few large columns around the perimeter of the building, supplemented by a grid of finer beams, with all beam ends visually expressed on the elevations. All of this is the representation, in concrete, of traditional Japanese timber construction.

Kagawa Prefectural Government Offices : Kenzo Tange : 1958

Main beam and secondary beam ends expressed on elevations. A modern interpretation (using modern materials) of traditional Japanese timber construction.

Taken after completion of Earthquake Resistance works.

Less apparent is his use of a central core to support the building and provide seismic resistance. Whilst this is the first time that this solution had been used in a modern Japanese building, built with modern materials, the technique has historic origins in the construction of pagodas, such as the Five-Storey Pagoda (Gojyū-no-Tō) at Horyuji temple in Nara prefecture, where a central column runs the height of the building and supports the roof structures that radiate from it whilst also providing seismic resistance (very effectively, as the building has been standing for around 1500 years and is thought to be the world’s oldest surviving wooden structure).


A number of people believe the Kagawa Prefectural Government Offices to be Tange’s most significant building, largely because of his representation of traditional Japanese construction techniques through modern materials. There is no doubt that he achieves a powerful yet refined aesthetic that is, stylistically, Japanese. Transcending style though, and perhaps his most significant historical reference, is his use of the central, structural core to both support the building and provide seismic resistance – a truly imaginative and relevant revival of traditional technique in a modern context.

However, the greater significance of the Kagawa Prefectural Government Offices building lies in what it stands for and in its legacy, and that is due to the vision of two governors. Masanori Kaneko demanded, and got, an open, inclusive design that belonged to and served its community and became a model for all local government buildings that followed. It also marks one of the first uses of secular public artworks, which had not historically been seen in Japan. Keizo Hamada understood not only the historical but also the cultural and social value of the building and the importance of maintaining it, while the people of Kagawa Prefecture have continued to build on its legacy of public art.

1. Efforts to Improve the Earthquake Resistance of the Kagawa Prefectural Government Office East Building, Keizo Hamada (Governor of Kagawa Prefecture), 2014.

2. Genichiro Inokuma was born in 1902 in Takamatsu (the city where the Kagawa Prefectural Government Offices are located) and later trained at the Tokyo School of Fine Arts. He began his career as a figurative painter but became increasingly interested in abstract art and travelled to Paris in 1938, where he met, and was influenced by, Matisse and Picasso before returning to Japan in 1940. In 1955 he moved to New York, where he was influenced by the Abstract Expressionists and got to know Mark Rothko, John Cage, Jasper Johns and Isamu Noguchi. He remained in New York until 1975 when his health began to fail, after which he spent his winters in Hawaii and worked the rest of the year in Japan. He died in 1993. Between 1989 and 1992 he donated all of his works to the city of Marugame, a city close to Takamatsu that became his hometown. The Marugame Genichiro Inokuma Museum of Contemporary Art opened in 1991, designed by Yoshio Taniguchi.

3. Isamu Kenmochi was born in 1912 and studied at the Tokyo College of Industrial Arts. After graduating Kenmochi worked at the Japanese Industrial Arts Institute (IAI) from where he was transferred during the war to work at the Ministry of Armaments. His work there involved research into the possibilities of using timber and bamboo in aircraft construction and this expanded his knowledge of these materials and their potential, especially when combined with modern fabrication techniques. His 1960 Rattan Chair* was the first Japanese design to be selected for the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art New York and a number of his pieces, although not familiar by name, are immediately recognisable, such as his T-3048M Easy Chair, his Stacking Stool for Akita Mokko, or his Maru Ashtray series. He died in 1971.

* The Rattan Chair features in the lobby of Kiyonori Kikutake’s Hotel Tokō-en. See my previous post dated June 29, 2018 : Kiyonori Kikutake (The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde).

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