Professor Alice Tseng to Speak on Kyoto Station

Friday, February 18, 4 p.m., Greenlaw 318 at UNC
Alice Tseng, Associate Professor, History of Art and Architecture, Boston University
“Between a World City and a World Heritage City: Lessons from the Kyoto Station Building Competition”
No commentary on contemporary Kyoto fails to mention the architectural trifecta that has struck irrevocable discord in the city’s civic and urban equanimity. The Kyoto Tower, Kyoto Hotel, and Kyoto Station, ironically eponymous, are loci of heated dissension, discontent, and disillusionment over the city’s development at the turn of the twenty-first century. All three conspicuously tower over their surroundings and primarily cater to the comfort and convenience of out-of-towners. Critics call the trio modern intrusions. Supporters call them necessary advancements in urban evolution. 

While construction of the Kyoto Tower dates back to 1964 in synchronization with the Tokyo Olympics of the same year, the current Kyoto Hotel and Kyoto Station structures, both dramatically enlarged reconstructions of existing buildings, were scheduled for completion in 1994, the 1200th anniversary of the founding of the city. Spawned amid the ecstasy of the bubble economy, hotel and station represent the inflated confidence investors had in a Kyoto that could actively participate in the global flow of capital, people, goods, and information. Kyoto Station, a transportation node linked to the newly completed Kansai International Airport, would literally embody the high speed and prodigious number of entries and exits in and out of this city each minute, each day.

This talk focuses on the Kyoto Station project as a product of economic and cultural globalizing trends at fever pitch in the 1980s and 90s. The rebranding of this railway station as a mega hybrid complex of hotel, theater, department store, shopping arcade, art gallery, and parking garage realizes John Rennie Short’s definition of “urban imagineering,” undertaken by international cities competing to sell themselves to investors and tourists in pursuit of global connectivity at the expense of local livability. By hiring a signature architect to create an iconic structure of civic-cultural function to commemorate a symbolic milestone, Kyoto joined the league of aspirant world cities at once “spectacularized” and standardized.

Alice Tseng is the author of The Imperial Museums of Meiji Japan: Architecture and the Art of the Nation (University of Washington Press, 2008).

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