Distinguished architect Paul Tange reflects on the mark of great design and how he applies the same approach to his craft.
Driving through the Shinjuku district of Tokyo at night, the Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower stands apart, its striking curved white aluminum and glass façade illuminated from the glow of interior light. At 204-meters tall and housing three schools, it’s the second tallest educational building in the world.
Responding to the client’s request for a “one-of-a-kind” building, Paul Noritaka Tange and his architectural design practice Tange Associates not only transformed the Tokyo skyline, at both day and night, with the striking design but also set a new standard for city center design. “When the streets are quiet and dark, that is when they will speak to you and things can be seen differently,” says Paul Tange. “We have to carefully consider the nighttime view – it can be instant art, in some ways.”
“It’s become increasingly important to make the building stand out, but architecture is not only skin deep. There is life behind that facade,” he says, “The function has to be represented in the building and in the Cocoon Tower's case it is as if the students are in a cocoon before becoming a butterfly.” Yet, aside from the symbolic connotations the design conveys, there is the understanding of purpose. “As a company, we are very versatile and do not have a particular style, because each building has to be a collaboration with our client and with the society surrounding it.”
Paul Tange’s highly considered design approach defines urban development across the globe; from Tokyo’s Cocoon Tower to Singapore’s UOB Plaza, One Raffles Place, to the Club Lexus Takaoka and the latest 2020 Tokyo Aquatic Centre, in more than thirty countries he has transformed the urban environment for the better. With each new project, exemplary design responds to its environment in a unique way.
Tange’s guiding principles stem from his late father, the prolific 20th century Modernist architect Kenzo Tange. Those values, which continue with the firm today, place emphasis on the relationship between creative expression and the pragmatic, with the idea that form should follow function. “My father always said that architecture does not exist in a vacuum, it has an environment. Whether it's green fields or an urban setting, we have to exist in that environment.”
The same is true of car design, something Tange not only appreciates but likens to architecture: “The car should be on the street. Of course, when I drove the Lexus LC, the car was beautiful but it has a function — it has to move elegantly through environments,” he explains. “For me, architecture has to make people happy and comfortable. And the same is true for driving a well-designed car.”
For Tange, the vision is not just to provide a structure that works well in our contemporary society but one that also excels in an imagined future. Appreciating design in a broader sense and as an avid car enthusiast Paul likens this approach to automotive design, “Everything is in the details, I have many car designer friends and we share the same passion. Sure, we can’t ignore the function - it has to be there in both the architecture and in the car - but beauty is incredibly important,” he enthuses.
“When I think about the ultimate sports car of the past, I think back to the car featured in the 1967 Bond film You Only Live Twice. I think the LC 500 will become that car for the future,” he says, animatedly.
“I really think it has that potential. Look at the evolving grill on the Lexus, the smooth lines without an old-fashioned bumper. It’s those subtle details that define the whole style.”
The Lexus LC made a dream concept car a reality. By taking the design of the LF-LC, which was never intended for production, Lexus engineers embraced the challenge to overcome conventional rules. It took more than 4,000 designers, engineers and technicians to craft the powerful LC into a car that went beyond any imagined vision. The LC was created in 2016 and is now considered one of the most luxurious and innovative coupes on the market. “It’s not an easy thing to do, designing a car without thinking about limitations,” says Tange, thoughtfully.
“With architecture it’s also about making the impossible possible. The client always gives me an impossible task, they want everything in the design and that’s the challenge,” he adds. “There is a similarity with the designing of cars because at the end of the day both have to function. They are not stationary sculptures made only to look beautiful.”
Designing and creating icons of the future necessitates a steely combination of beauty with purpose. An innovative approach to design such as Paul Tange’s provides solutions and a crucial connection to the environment in which they stand, shaping perceptions and capturing our collective imagination.
“We talk about three different scales in our profession - the urban, the architectural and the human,” Tange explains. “Of course, the building has to look right within the framework of the cityscape, to stand out yet not destroy the skyline,” he adds. “But no matter how tall the building is, the details have to be right for the human scale. That makes the richness,” he enthuses. “At the end of the day, you have to feel it, you have to touch it, that’s where the beauty lies, at eye level.”