Writing the Liberal Script, Designing the International Society: Postwar Liberalism and the Remaking of Japanese Architecture, 1945-1995
After the Second World War, liberal principles have been fundamental in developing principles by which societies became part of a new international order. Largely derived from the language of political liberalism, universal ideals articulated in terms of democracy and human rights sought to reorganise the international society in the aftermath of atrocities conducted in the name of nationalism. As liberalism went global, one of its contestations concerned the extent to which universal liberal values were placed over national sovereignty. ‘Thicker’ theories in liberal political philosophy downgraded the normative relevance of national borders in favour of individual rights as universal standards, while movements of decolonisation in the global South put emphasis on sovereign equality, non-domination, and national self-rule within a ‘thinner’ liberal international framework. On this view, the ‘liberal script’ produced a variety of conflicting visions expressed in different political projects across the globe.
Considering how a complex variety of liberal languages came into conflict in their search for principles of the international society, this research explores how key architectural designs in post-war Japan similarly evolved as a series of conflicting liberal visions. When liberal and democratic Japan found itself transformed through design, architectural projects such as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park (1949-55) and the Yoyogi National Stadium (1961-64) built for the 1964 Olympic Games, both designed by Kenzō Tange, reintegrated the nation into the international community. Whereas Tange aimed to demonstrate that modernist architecture as a reflection of liberal values was compatible with nationalist expression by incorporating elements of traditional Japanese architecture, one of his former students, Arata Isozaki, responded with a more universalist stance by articulating architectural and urban designs for Asian countries based on the idea of the European Union.
From the perspective of design research and political philosophy, this research seeks to understand how political liberalism and architectural design interlace. It uncovers how post-war Japanese architects wrote distinct versions of the ‘liberal script’ into their designs and, by doing so, contributed to a set of liberal languages that closely corresponded to continuities, tensions, and variations of broader liberal developments in the making of the international society.