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 Osaka Gas building, designed by Takeo Yasui and built in 1933...
At the beginning of the 20th century Japanese cities began to adopt urban and city-planning ideas developed in Europe and the USA. The city of Osaka was one of the prime movers in this respect and, in the late 1920’s, embarked on a transformational project to link the two main railway hubs of Umeda (to the north of the city centre) and Namba (to the south of the city centre) with a wide boulevard under which would run the first subway line in Osaka. The result was the construction, between 1930 and 1935, of Midosuji Avenue and the Midosuji subway line, both still at the commercial, financial and political heart of Osaka today.
Umeda brought together railway lines serving east and west, up through Kyoto and Nagoya to Tokyo and down through Hiroshima and beyond to Kyushu; Namba brought together railway lines serving south, down through Nara and into Wakayama. It could be said that the single thread of Midosuji, by linking Umeda and Namba, united all those parts of Japan that had direct connections to Osaka.
The project was also driven by the adoption of Keynsian economics : the subway would be operated by the municipality and the construction of both the subway and the boulevard over it, which was all achieved by manual labour, would provide jobs and economic stimulus in a time of financial hardship.
In order to help ensure the success of the project the city government asked major companies and institutions to move their headquarters to Midosuji, thus providing a raison d’être for the Avenue and a guaranteed daily population that would use the subway line.
Osaka Gas building, seen across the width of Midosuji Avenue.
The section to the right, which maintains the horizontal lines of the projected eaves at each floor level but with a more modern window pattern, is a later addition designed by Shoichi Sano and completed in 1966.
Even today, Osaka City Hall, the Osaka branch of the Bank of Japan, along with other major banking corporations, consulates, department stores and companies are located on Midosuji, but one of the first adopters was Osaka Gas, which opened its headquarters building there in 1933, the same year that the first phase of the Midosuji project was completed.*
* The subway was completed from Umeda as far south as Shinsaibashi in 1933. The remainder, from Shinsaibashi to Namba was completed in 1935.
The building was designed by Takeo Yasui and, as well as providing offices and corporate headquarters for Osaka Gas, includes a showroom, restaurant/bar and a multi-purpose hall available for public use. The deep overhanging eaves at each floor provide a horizontal emphasis while the use of pilasters on the panels between the windows provides a supplementary vertical note to the façade composition. The first two floors form a base, at the upper level of which the structure is set back behind a curtain wall of continuous glazing that mediates between the large, individual display windows at street level and the smaller, regular window pattern of the upper floors.
Osaka Gas Building.
These elements, together with the softly curved corners, are recognisably Art Deco and can be found on buildings across Europe and from Miami to Mumbai. Many of these were built around the same time or after the Osaka Gas building, which stands as a rare example of a Japanese architect joining the vanguard of an international architectural trend rather than producing later buildings based on western precedents. The bold use of polished black granite at the lower levels and off-white mosaic tiles on the rest of the building is also recognisably Art Deco in style.
Osaka Gas Building : detail at corner of rear elevation.
The use of curves and the contrast of polished black granite and off-white mosaic tiles all point to the influence of Art Deco.
Osaka Gas building : rear elevation of the 1933 building designed by Takeo Yasui.
A later addition, designed by Soichi Sano and completed in 1966, retains the horizontal emphasis of the overhanging eaves at each floor and the vertical pilasters between groups of windows but employs a more modern window pattern.
Osaka Gas building : rear elevation of the 1966 extension designed by Soichi Sano.
The horizontal emphasis of the overhanging eaves at each floor is retained, as are vertical pilasters on panels between windows, but the window pattern is more modern and the spacing between the pilasters is greater.
As noted above, the Osaka Gas building appears to represent a rare example of a Japanese architect riding the wave of modernism rather than swimming in its wake. It is one of the few remaining original buildings on Midosuji and still retains its original function. Unlike the generically anonymous buildings that have replaced many of its neighbours it retains a sense of Osaka’s optimistic and confident embrace of the future in the 1930's.
Osaka Gas building.
Corner of side and rear elevations of the 1933 building by Takeo Yasui with rear of the 1966 extension by Soichi Sano to left of shot.
Current and recent major redevelopments at and around both Umeda and Namba, including developments at and around Osaka station (the latest being the Osaka Railroad Yards development) may collectively match, or exceed, the scale of the Midosuji project of 1930-35, but none of them matches its ambition or vision. Like the Osaka Gas building, the Midosuji project rode the wave of modernism and optimism, whereas the recent developments feel like they are swimming in the wake of other S.E Asian cities in an attempt to prove that Osaka can still keep up.