A metaphor is an artistic device, aimed at evoking certain feelings by creating some analogy between two dissimilar entities. Usually, therefore, in metaphoric architecture (sometimes also categorized as symbolic architecture, Jencks, 1985) the designer’s aim is to derive some association or symbol from the function of the building or from its context, which then in some way is reflected in the appearance of the building. The use of the metaphor in architecture, in fact, is not new. For example, Gothic cathedrals often evinced mysticism and pious devotion. A similar purpose motivated Le Corbusier in the design of the Ronchamps Chapel. A notable example of metaphoric building in recent times is the Sydney Opera House, architect: Jorn Utzon; structural engineers: Ove Arup and Partners (Utzon, 1999).
Opera House, Sydney, Australia, architect: Jorn Utzon, structural design consultant: Peter Rice from Ove Arup. Metaphoric design with reinforced concrete shell roof, reminiscent of sails blown by wind.
The location of the building at Sydney Harbour inspired the architect to choose a roof system consistin of reinforced concrete shell segments, which resemble wind-stretched sails. The Sydney Opera House inspired Renzo Piano to design the new Aurora Place Office Tower, some 800 metres from the Opera, with fins and sails extending at the top of the 200-metres-high building beyond the façade. In the Bahia temple at New Delhi, the reinforced concrete shells bring to mind the petals of a flower. The roof of the Idlewild TWA terminal at New York Airport (architect: Eero Saarinen) reminds the viewer of the wings of a bird or aeroplane, whilst the façade of the Institute of Science and Technology in Amsterdam (designed by Renzo Piano) recalls a boat. Santiago Calatrava’s Lyon- Satalas TGV railway station building (1990–94) equally imposes on the spectator the impression of a bird’s wings.
Some metaphoric examples by Japanese architects include:
- Shimosuwa Lake Suwa Museum, Japan (designer: Toyo Ito, 1990–93): from the exterior elevation this evinces the image of a reversed boat but, in plan, a fish.
- Museum of Fruit, Japan (designer: Itsuko Hasegawa, 1993–95): here the individual building volumes have been put under a cover of earth, which could be interpreted as representing the seeds of plants and fruits and so indirectly the power of life and productivity.
- Umeda Sky City, Japan (designer: Hiroshi Hara, 1988–93): here skyscrapers have been connected at high levels thus providing an association to future space structures.
Metabolic architecture derives its name from the Greek word metabole meaning a living organism with biochemical functions. The term is applied, and not always appropriately, to non-living organizations or systems that react or adapt to external influences and are able to change their properties in response to various influences. The concept of ‘metabolism’ was affirmed at the international level at the Tokyo World Conference held in 1960 on industrial design by the Japanese Kisho Kurokawa, Kiynori Kikutaka, Fumihiko Maki and Masato Otaka. By doing so, they wished to counteract aspects of modernism that sometimes adopted the approach of machine design in the context of architecture. At the same time this particular group of architects were also guided by the desire to diminish the impact of Western architecture on the Japanese traditions, without rejecting up-to-date technology in construction.
Subsequently, and influenced by American mobile home unit technology, Kurokawa introduced his ‘Capsule’ theory, which was published in the March 1969 issue of the periodical Space Design. A cornerstone of this theory was the replaceability, or interchangeability, of the individual capsules. Kurokawa’s first such building, which immediately succeeded in making him known worldwide, was the Nakagin Tower in Tokyo, built in 1972, in which capsules of a standard size were fixed to a reinforced concrete core. Whilst the core represented permanence, the capsules made possible functional adaptability and change. The Nakagin Tower was followed by further capsule buildings and unrealized projects of metabolic cities. Although metabolic architecture failed to gain wider acceptance, the idea of capsules was used in several forms, as for example in Moshe Safdie’s residential complex at the Montreal Expo, which consisted of modular, pre-cast concrete boxes. Also, mobile home manufacturers in the USA, from whom the idea of capsule building originated in the first place, gained further inspiration from the architectural achievements of the concept. Kurokawa’s later designs in the 1990s (the Ehme Prefectural Museum of General Science and the Osaka International Convention Centre, both in Japan, and the Kuala Lumpur airport, Malaysia, the last designed in association with the Malaysian Akitek Jururancang) do not follow the capsule theory; instead they are based on abstract simple geometric shapes made complex. The Kuala Lumpur airport’s hyperbolic shell is reminiscent of traditional Islamic domes and thereby combines the modern with the traditional.