Tradition meets Modernism | Kansai

Kyoto Station. Photo: © Roland Hagenberg

Anchored in tradition, but at the same time keeping doors open to innovation – these are the characteristic traits of modern Kyoto. On one hand, the 1200-year-old imperial city is home to one-fifth of all National Treasures of Japan and to 17 historic buildings of the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto”.

Seiryuden Temple Park. Photo: © Roland Hagenberg

On the other hand, Kyoto is a leading international center for research and development – be it in transport (magnetic levitation trains), brain research (decoded neurofeedback), or the entertainment industry (Nintendo, Super Mario). When concepts for the future meet a traditional past, it shows in architecture. Twenty years ago, Hiroshi Hara’s Kyoto Station caused a stir for its unconventional modernism that many considered a sacrilege amidst the cities 2000 temples and shrines. Today, the steel and glass structure is a leading example of how public spaces should be designed: innovative and inviting.

Umeda Sky Building © Keiko Sakabe; Hiroshi Hara © Roland Hagenberg

Hara achieved this by creating an artificial ascending valley along train tracks, shops, and a hotel reminiscent of ancient village gathering places. Weather allowing, thousands of visitors chat, relax, and socialise on the hundreds of steps leading skywards. During his long, successful career, Hara (80) had researched village structures in more than 50 countries. “I kept a travel diary in the hope that the historical wisdom I encountered would later find its way into my works,” says the architect. “I tried to find out why certain things were the best solution at the time they originated. The essence I translated into modern concepts like the Kyoto station.”

Those interested in other superlative structures by Hara can hop on a Shinkansen at Kyoto station and take a fifteen-minute ride to neighboring Osaka where the architect created the “Umeda Sky Building”, a 40-story complex with two skyscrapers connected on the upper floors by an escalator.

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