Symposium Themes

In the early 1960s, Japan was on the cusp of transformation. Post-war recovery gained critical momentum and technologies advanced. Cities were growing rapidly, and a new need for mass housing and infrastructure sparked challenges and opportunities in the urban context.  The rapidity and the abrupt transformation of the urban environment which was fuelled by an enormous economic growth and unprecedent level of productivity which saw a frantic process of urbanization and immigration become catalyst for new bold ideas and unconventional and innovative architecture and urban planning projects, conceived as solutions to some of the most urgent problems of the urban dwellers.

  • Metabolism is the name of a group of young Japanese designers and architects who proposed a new form of urbanism built on visionary urban projects and experimental avant-garde design as creative response to this new landscape.  The occasion to present their ideas came at the 1960 World Design Conference in Tokyo, when they presented a manifesto titled METABOLISM/1960–Proposals for a New Urbanism, championing then-innovative concepts such as capsule architecture and prefabrication, and embracing bold forms characterised by sophisticated architectural elements and massive urban structures that continue to fascinate designers today.

    Metabolism was active in Japan from 1958 to the 1970s, and its techno-utopias were rooted in the fundamental notions of cycles of use, nomadism, modularity, compact urbanism, expandability and replaceability, and were inspired by the biological metaphor of organic growth of living organisms as well as the cultural influence of East Asian philosophical thoughts  and religious traditions. Key figures associated with the Metabolist movement include renowned architects Kenzo Tange, Kisho Kurokawa, Fumihiko Maki, Arata Isozaki, Masato Otaka and Kiyonori Kikutake, as well as critic Noburu Kawazoe, graphic designer Kiyoshi Awazu and industrial designer Ekuan Kenji. Surviving examples of Metabolist architecture include Yamanashi Press building and the Nakagin Capsule Tower in Tokyo, and the site for the 1970 World Exposition in Osaka.

    Recent years have witnessed a revamp and growing interest in the model of cities and the architectural ideas the Metabolists have first proposed 60 years ago, especially in the Asia Pacific Region. In the years what attracted most was the fact that Metabolist  projects have devoted much attention to the themes of compact cities, high-density architectures in rapid growing cities, the exploration of new form of urbanization in alternative habitats like the sea (marine cities and large floating urban platforms), as well as the predilection for a technological-driven design approach built around flexible architectural spaces and changeable urban forms reactive to any radical and sudden (human-made or natural) transformation of the surrounding  environment.

    Focussing on 3 key themes of research (Metabolism’s lessons in a time of Climate Change; Metabolism and the Future of the City; Metabolism and the need for Eco-Urban Design and Regeneration), the symposium, which is supported by the Japan Foundation - Sydney, gathers high calibre scholars and academics who will introduces the work of the Metabolists with the intent to examines the merits and limitations of the urban architectural projects and planning schemes they developed in response to Japan’s rapid post-war urbanisation. Reflecting on the lessons and legacy of the Metabolist oeuvre, sixty years on from the manifesto’s release, the symposium will explore several concepts and schemes proposed by Metabolism and discuss their current relevance in the design and development of the 21st Century city, highlighting how the visions and ideas of this dynamic but fleeting movement might be reinterpreted and adapted to address humanity urban futures.

Participants and Program

List of Participants

  • E. Prof. Hajime Yatsuka, Shibaura Institute of Technology - Tokyo 
  • Prof. Kiwa Matsushita, Shibaura Institute of Technology - Tokyo 
  • Prof. Ken Tadashi Oshima, University of Washington 
    • Prof. Botond Bognar, the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign 
    • Prof. Julian Worrall, the University of Tasmania 
    • E. Prof. Jon Lang, UNSW Sydney 
    • Dr. Raffaele Pernice, UNSW Sydney 
    • Dr. Yuriko Furuhata, McGill University - Montreal
    • Dr. Yasutaka Tsuji, Tsukuba University
    • Dr. Peter Senk, University of Maribor 
    • Dr. Hyunjung Cho, KAIST - Daejeon 
    • Mr. Casey Mack 
    • Mr. Philip Drew, UNSW Sydney  
    • Ms. Shaowen Wang, UNSW Sydney

Symposium Program

Monday 22 February 2021 (webinar - Sydney Time)

Venue: none (event on-line/webinar)

Time Content
09.30am - 09:45am  Introduction and welcome
09:45am - 11.35am 1st Session (25 minutes x 5 presenters)
11.35am -12.30 pm Roundtable
12.30pm - 02.00pm  Break
02.00pm - 04.05pm  2nd Session (25 minutes x 5 presenters)
04.05pm - 05.00pm  Roundtable & wrap up

Tuesday 23 February 2021 (hybrid live & webinar - Sydney Time)

Venue: Gallery on the GF of Red Centre UNSW Sydney, Kensington Campus

Time Content
09:15am - 09.30am  Introduction and welcome
09.30am - 11.10am  1st Session (25 minutes x 4 presenters)
11.10am - 12.00pm  Roundtable & wrap up
  • Participants will engage in talks focussed on Metabolism lessons and highlight their relation with the duality destruction/reconstruction of the natural and urban landscape,  the planning and design of communities and mass housing suitable for the contemporary mega-city, and the influence of eco-urban design approaches and strategies to face the challenges posed by recent threats to the urban society such as the global warming and climate change.

    The symposium will deliver 3 main goals:

    1. It will deepen the knowledge and the understanding of the Metabolists projects and visions, and in general provide a broad understanding of the contribution of Japanese architecture and urbanism theories to the international discourse about modern architecture in the 20th Century;
    2. It will stage a common platform for stimulating discussions and exchange of ideas, opinions and information on the themes of the current urban transformation of the built environment and the challenges posed by the future urbanization through the lenses of the Metabolism visionary projects and their ideas, theories and concepts;
    3. It will facilitate the creation of new and strengthen already present links between foreign scholars, researchers and academics and their counterparts at UNSW Sydney - Built Environment in view of future international collaborations and joint research projects.

Event Livestream

Audience can watch the live stream event only from YouTube and not Teams.

Monday 22 - webinar

Tuesday 23 - hybrid live & webinar


Register for both online and on site participation.

Speakers and Abstracts

Hajime Yatsuka

Architect and Emeritus Professor of Architecture at Shibaura Institute of Technology in Tokyo

Yuriko Furuhata

Associate Professor and William Dawson Scholar of Cinema and Media History in the Department of East Asian Studies, and an associate member of the Department of Art History and Communication Studies at McGill University

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Hyunjung Cho

Associate Professor in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at KAIST (Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology) in South Korea

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Philip Drew

Visiting associate professor in the USA at Washington University St Louis, and University of Idaho

Peter Šenk

Architect, Associate Professor of Architecture and Spatial Planning at the Department of Architecture, Faculty of Civil Engineering, Transportation Engineering and Architecture, University of Maribor

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Jon Lang

Emeritus Professor, headed the joint MArch/MCP Program in Urban Design at the University of Pennsylvania

Shaowen Wang

Architectural design educator and academic

Organizers and Sponsors

UNSW Sydney - Built Environment / History and Theory of the Built Environment Research Cluster 

The Japan Foundation, Sydney

  • The event is organized as both live and remote on-line event (webinar).

    This symposium is funded by the Japan Foundation Program for Intellectual Exchange Conferences Grant 2020 (Ref. no. 10126897)

    Project Director: Dr. Raffaele Pernice, UNSW Sydney

    Dr. Raffaele Pernice, UNSW Sydney