Temporary Kinetics:
Mamoru Kawaguchi and the engineering of Metabolism

In the period after WWII, a group of young Japanese architects banded together to form an architectural movement in the face of great adversity and rapid change on the island nation. These architects, led by Kenzo Tange, would become the Metabolists, and their socio-political agenda would reach its narrative arc at the Osaka Expo of 1970 under an incredible roof built by Tange himself. Many years later, the legacy of Metabolism would be shamed through the architecture of Metabolism's great defector, Arata Isozaki, at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Their opposing discourse would find its voice in the hands engineer and collaborator, Mamoru Kawaguchi who would play an instrumental role in the execution of their buildings, through the development of innovative lifting systems. His actions would engender in Tange and Isozaki the ability to achieve not only in the case of the former, dramatic statements of hope for the future, and in the latter the displacing of the hollow promise of progress.


In the summer of 1945, Mamoru Kawaguchi's hometown Fukui, like many Japanese cities, was completely bombed by the United States during the Pacific Theatre of World War II.1 Kawaguchi's home was rebuilt in the aftermath by his family, while all around him a nation recovered, changed, and became anew2. Three years later, a devastating earthquake would strike Fukui, and again, Kawaguchi's house would be completely destroyed.3 It is unsurprising then that young Mamoru became inclined toward structural engineering, and indeed, it was the career he set out upon, graduating from Fukui University in 1954 and enrolling and the University of Tokyo in 19554. At Tokyo, he would study under Yoshikatsu Tsuboi, the famed engineer of Kenzo Tange, and would later work at his office. During his time there, Kawaguchi worked on the Yoyogi National Gymnasium for the Tokyo Olympics which housed the swimming and diving events for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics5. By 1972, he was a Professor at the University of Hosei6, with his own flourishing practise7. His most important contribution to the field would be his Pantadome system, developed shortly after Kawaguchi left the office of Yoshikatsu Tsuboi.


During Kawaguchi's employment in Tsuboi's office, Metabolism was beginning its meteoric rise in Japan. The year 1960 saw the publishing of the Metabolist manifesto by the critic Kawazoe Noboru, under the direction of architects Masato Otaka Masato, Kiyonori Kikutake, Kisho Kurokawa, and Fumihiko Maki8. Reacting against the-the ruin of Japan, a contraction of national presence both in terms of culture and territory, the sudden expansion of the nation's economy in the face of the free-market, and the rapid growth of urban centres such as Tokyo, the Metabolists desired an architecture which had the agency to reflect human growth and change. No project would exemplify this more than Plan for Tokyo, 1960, where the evident desire for reconstruction was rooted in the narrative of massive progress through megastructure9. Tange was, in many ways, the epicentre of the movement, he established the Tange Laboratory at the University of Tokyo where young associates such as Fumihiko Maki, Kisho Kurokawa, and Arata Isozaki met and exchanged ideas10. He also ran his own office, URTEC which executed a number of major structures including the Yoyogi National Gymnasium, and from where the Tokyo Bay Project was conceived11.


As a student Arata Isozaki was in the Tange Lab during his time at the University Tokyo12. He would move on, as a young architect to become employed in Tange's office, working on the Plan for Tokyo, 1960 project among other early prominent works13. For a time, Isozaki's involvement in Metabolism was significant, however, he would soon grow tired with what he would see as the misplaced optimism of Metabolism, and distance himself from the movement to become an integral counterpoint in his propinquity to, and yet utter ambivalence toward the others14. This turn in Isozaki's character begins in earnest at the pivotal movement of the Osaka Expo in 1970, as he witnesses what would become the largest realization of the Metabolist agenda to date.


Expo '70 Osaka was a first-category Universal Exposition was held on March 15, and September 13, 1970, in Suita, Osaka under the theme, “Progress and Harmony for Mankind”15. The exposition was attended by 77 countries and 4 international organizations, and a built total of 110 pavilions16. Presiding as the Chief Planner and Director, Kenzo Tange himself would orchestrate the exposition, exercising his power to realize the goals of the Metabolist movement on a massive scale, and for an international audience17. Tange invited 13 architects, all Metabolists to work on the master plan18 assigning each a major exposition building to execute, with Tange reserving for himself the Grand Roof,19 and for Arata Isozaki the Festival Plaza20 of mechanical, electrical, and electronic installations.21 This exposition was the apogee of Metabolism, a testing ground for Metabolist ideas on a large scale, with political support, significant funding, corporate sponsorship, and the liberation of the temporary pavilion. It was the playground of the avant-garde of Japan and of the world, and above it, lay Tange's masterpiece, the Grand Roof of the festival.


Massive in scope, the Grand Roof was to be a space frame, inspired by those of Konrad Waschmann.22 Waschmann visited Japan in the 1950s, teaching intensive seminars at the University of Tokyo, which were attended by both Isozaki, and Kawaguchi.23 Engineering of the Grand Roof was performed by Yoshikatsu Tsuboi who had worked previously with Tange at the Yogyoi National gymnasium. Here, Kawaguchi was the lead engineer at Tsuboi's firm the Expo 70 project and looked to Konrad Washmann's work in order to develop the structural system for Tange's Festival Roof. In terms of Kenzo Tange's vision, the space frame was intended to provide the maximum coverage while providing a neutral spatial quality underneath, freeing up the narrative for the multi-purpose character of the festival plaza24.


Kawaguchi's role in the design of the Grand Rood cannot be understated. The space-frame was constructed on the ground, and lifted into place as per Kawaguchi's recommendation, a feat never before attempted at this scale25. This assembly method allowed for a significant reduction in cost and was a great improvement on influential Waschmann space-frame, which was designed to be constructed from the bottom up. The lifting of the frame was done on pneumatic jacks, which suspended the frame itself. As the jacks were lifted the 6 supporting columns were erected, becoming joined to the frame with braces when the roof was at its requisite height. These six supporting columns became, “pure pin-joint structures”,26 carrying considerable forces.27 A total of 640 specially designed joints28 made of cast-steel were designed by Kawaguchi for use in holding the frame together29, as at Yoyogi Indoor Stadium with Tsuboi working with Tange in 1964.30 Kawaguchi notes in his lecture, “The Design of Structures, from Soft to Hard” that this expressed the stress flow of the roof more clearly and directly, so much so that it was inspirational to Peter Rice's use of cast steel in the Centre Pompidou design31.


The Grand Roof's practical purposes were to protect the plaza from natural elements and to act as a rack for the various systems and equipment used for the plaza. With a depth of 7.6m and dimensions of approximately 100m by 300m, the exhibition roof was large enough to cover 5,000 visitors and provide two stories of exhibition space. The Grand Roof was further pierced in the middle of its 300m span by a 70m, three-faced, Jomon-period inspired sculpture by Taro Okamoto32, titled the Tower of the Sun God. This juxtaposition between an ancient Japanese image and the modernist, space-frame, added greatly to the complexity of the image, and further aligned the exposition with a modernizing, yet traditional national culture.


The Festival Plaza, underneath the Grand Roof was designed by Isozaki. Isozaki's plaza was to be a vast and technocratic as a container for festival events, and more consequentially the optimism of Japan.33 Relying on futuristic visions rooted in computers, electronics and other emerging technology, the roof contained 700 speakers, 360 degree rotatable lighting, and two 14m tall robots named Démé and Déku which were, “programmed and computer-controlled to respond to the movements of the crowd and performances being presented”34. The link between Tange and Kawaguchi's monolithic space-frame and Isozaki's futuristic playground share a socio-political agency, realizable only under Kawaguchi's careful structural design.


Tange illustrates his intention for the Grand Roof in the opening essay, “The Basic Concept of Expo '70”, appearing in the official book of the exposition. Tange saw the Grand Roof as a cloud, hovering above the festival grounds. To achieve this, he utilized a space frame with a pneumatic roof of half-mirrored plastic, to achieve a transparent, and neutral effect35. Tange further speculated on the future of the Grand Roof as a possible urban typology, indirectly evoking the sky-cities of Yona Friedman.

“In the first place, we may soon have to cover public spaces such as squares and plazas with roofs of a similar nature. In the second, by containing usable spaces within its structure, the Grand Roof represents an approach to the aerial city. For instance, the space frame can be extended front and back and right and left, and within its framework can be inserted architectural spaces for living and working”.36


Here, in Kawaguchi and Tange's huge roof, the space-frame assumes the role of a container, and for the exposition it held a variety of smaller buildings in its grid, including structures by Maki, Kurokawa, Moshe Safdie, Giancarlo De Carlo, Yona Friedman, Hans Hollein, Archigram, Christopher Alexander and others37. The avant-garde was here, at Osaka, literally encapsulated by the space-frame, and projected over the exposition for all to see and experience.


Kawaguchi was instrumental in the development of the possibility of the symbolic expression of Metabolism as it reached its apotheosis at Osaka '70. His suggestion for pneumatically lifting the structure into place after assembly on the ground significantly reduced cost and time in executing the structure, and his invention of the ball-joint which was capable of safely displacing 500 tons allowed for enormous spans without weld38. The “almost transparent”39, “neutral and personalityless”40 expressions of the Grand Roof's form was invested in Kawaguchi's ball-joint in carrying incredible tonnage over large spans. Attaining Tange's dream of a cloud41 which could float over the exposition relied on Kawaguchi to engineer what would be the largest42 space-frame in the world cheaply and quickly.


After Expo '70, Mamoru Kawaguchi turned his attention to the dome, considered to be one of the most efficient and long-spanning of spatial roof structures43. Kawaguchi's concern lay with the inefficiency of constructing the dome, due to the need for extensive scaffolding, labour, and time in addition to myriad problems associated with accuracy, reliability and safety44. The lifting system applied to the Expo '70 Festival Roof would not be able to raise a domed space frame as simple pneumatic lift would not be able to meet the structural need for stability in the members that exist both in the meridional and hoop directions.


Kawaguchi's solution was to make the dome “geometrically unstable for a period of construction so that could be 'foldable' during its erection.45 To do this, The structure of the dome needed to fold in the hoop direction, requiring the removal of sections of the dome, and in their stead adding hinges in order to apply a lifting method to raise the entire structure at once. These removed hoop sections, he showed, could be added after the fact, to give the structure vertical stability once again. Furthermore, the dome itself could be hinged to the vertical column supports at the perimeter to complete a fully hinged structure system46. This method would allow the dome to be constructed, finished, and outfitted at ground level, in its folded form, and then, in a controlled but visually dramatic fashion, lifted into its final unfolded form.47 Kawaguchi called this construction system the Pantadome and with strikingly similar rhetoric to Tange, Kawaguchi explains the possibilities of the system for structures, which could “change shape at different times of the year, or perhaps even flatten between uses to minimize heating or cooling costs,” and specifically, “roofs of large stadia which could be stepped down for small events, or lowered for acoustical concerts”48


Kawaguchi applied the Pantadome system, in combination with space-frames to a number of structures beginning in Kobe with the World Memorial Hall in 1985. Here, collaborating with a Japanese architect, Misumune49, Kawaguchi raised the entire dome in days using the Pantadome system50. Later, in Singapore, Kawaguchi deployed seven sections of roof utilizing the system for Kenzo Tange's Singapore National Indoor Stadium51.


Expo '70 further confirmed Arata Isozaki's movement toward a critical position against Metabolism. His disenchantment with the blatant optimism of the Metabolist movement had begun earlier in the 1960s, and his participation in Expo '70 gave him considerable anxiety over the problem of Modernism, of which the movement was still very intrinsically linked. For Isozaki, the nature of the march toward utopian progress was unhealthy, untruthful, and even dangerous52. Over the rest of the 1970s and 1980s, Isozaki would engage in numerous formal operations designed to discredit through a critical apparatus, the Modernism which had given Metabolism its life53. Isozaki's solution was to generate, in his own words, buildings which would “assume either an aggressive or a defensive position in relation to their setting”54, in order to generate discordance by defying expectations, creating juxtapositions, and reducing architecture to a state of ruin55. Examples of work from this period include the Tsukuba Center Building, and the Art Tower in Mito.


In 1983, prior to completion of the Kobe World Memorial Hall, Arata Isozaki won the international design competition for a 15,000-seat sports stadium for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics56. Isozaki and Kawaguchi together developed the design for the sports hall with a double-layer gridded space-frame roof spanning 128m by 106m utilizing the Pantadome system operating on the lifting power of hydraulic jacks57. Designed to evoke the landscape of the Montjuic area58 the stepped roof consists of a central domical section, connected by 4 toroidal sections, and were assembled on-site, 6 metres from the ground, and connected with over 2000 hinges59.


The contract for construction and erection of the roof was given to a consortium of Spanish companies including Dragados, VSL, and Orona in 198760. Once the majority of the construction of these elements was completed, 24 hydraulic lifts were attached to the folded roof structure in preparation of the lifting of the entire roof. Beginning November 21st, 1998 the lifts raised the structure 45 metres61. Once it was in final position, the cranes were swapped with 60 hinged columns and the hinged sections were filled with structural members, in a dramatic kinetic expression62.


What remains interesting in the design Palau Sant Jordi is the collaboration between Isozaki and Kawaguchi. Together, they produce an architectural form which tectonically folds into place, as well as illustrating in detail, the ingenious method of the folding solution. In recounting the structures design, Kawaguchi states,

“Isozaki wanted to have the shape of a dome that was not a complete dome, but one that suggests the way the dome had been constructed. He wanted a shape that seemed as if the dome was on the way to being lifted. In the same sense, he left those parts that moved very much during the construction as they were, and those spaces were used as skylights.”63



Kawaguchi's Pantadome, a folding space-frame, capable of incredible symbolic power for the Metabolists as a truly kinetic architecture of human growth was manipulated in Isozaki's hands. The incredible variability embedded in the Pantadome system and the spectacle of its erection provided Isozaki with the opportunity to present to the world an architecture which was complicated by its final form. Appearing as if it could still be lifted, seemingly frozen, the Palau Sant Jordi continues a critique begun in Isozaki's drawing, Re-Ruined Hiroshima; which used the bombed landscape of Hiroshima, populated with Metabolist structures to disrupt the myth of progress embedded in Metabolist optimism. For Isozaki, this utopic gesture was unattainable, and in its stead, the incomplete and unstable, the broken and ruined needed to exist in order to inject realism into the discourse of progressivism. Palau Sant Jordi was the ultimate expression of Isozaki's agenda. a perfect space-frame, destabilized, lifted but never to its fullest extent; a celebration of the visceral present.


Kawaguchi's relationship with these masters of Japanese architecture reveals a salient thread which spans thirty years and defines through it's essentialism, the Metabolist movement. Kawaguchi's ability to realize in the case of Kenzo Tange, incredible efficiency, and for Arata Isozaki, strategic formalism, shows both his incredible process in the way of structural design and also the tirelessness of his work toward improving the construction of architecture. Through his role as an invaluable collaborator, Kawaguchi ensured that both Tange and Isozaki could express their positions in stride, even as the Metabolist obsession with progress rose to a fever pitch at Osaka in 1970 under Tange, only to fade under the crushing weight of critical indifference by Isozaki.



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1Schlaich, 11







8Metabolism, City of, 17

9Project Japan, 284

10Architecture for the World, 19


12Metabolism, City of, 278


14Project Japan, 25

15SSM, 15

16Ibid, 14

17Metabolism, city of, 14

18Kultermann, 282


20Japan Architects, 108

21Kultermann, 282

22Metabolism, City of, 186


24Japan Architects, 107

25Kawaguchi, Candela, 104

26SSM, 27

27Kawaguchi, Candela, 104

28Project Japan, 510

29Ibid, 511

30Kawaguchi, Candela, 105


32Japan Architects, 107

33Japan Architects, 108

34Ibid, 108

35SSM, 15


37Project Japan, 519-523

38Ibid, 511

39SSM, 15



42Project Japan, 511

43Candela Lectures, 106

44Kawaguchi Pantadome, 92


46Chilton, 141-142

47Kawaguchi Pantadome, 92

48Robbin, 49

49Kawaguchi Pantadome, 95

50Chilton, 143

51Application of Pantadome System, p. 95

52Isozaki, Four Decades, 113



55Ibid, 115

56Application of Pantadome System, p. 97

57Kawaguchi Pantadome, 97

584 decades, 141

594 decades, 141

60VSL Document, p. 2

614 decades, 141

62Kawaguchi Pantadome, 98

63Candela lectures, 109