The City in the Air by Arata Isozaki

Arata Isozaki, the Japanese architect and winner of the Pitzker Prize 2019, is not only renowned for his fruitful portfolio of works built all over the world (more than a hundred) but also for his continuous input to the theory of urbanism, including texts and proposals. 

It is precisely in the field of urbanism, that he developed one of his most interesting non-built projects: the futurist master plan, known as City in the Air, in the Shinjuku neighborhood in Tokyo, Japan.

At the end of the Second World War, in Japan - a country in full material and spiritual reconstruction - an avant-garde architectural and urbanistic movement emerged, known as Metabolism. The Japanese architects started to explore the relationship between the human being and the constructed environment.

The Metabolism emphasized the concept of biological growth in architecture, implying that the city, as well as its structures, are living organisms that develop together. The architecture was now understood a being in constant transformation, a movement able to reflect in its design a dynamic reality.

© Yukio Futagawa

The Metabolists separated themselves from much of the established international discourse after the Second World War. They distanced themselves from the architecture defined by functional programming and moved towards one more focused on human association and mobility, reflecting on how to create utopic cities after the destruction of the war.

Arata Isozaki, who was 12 years old when Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed, understood the urban history as a circular existence. A vision that moves from the construction to the destruction and vice-versa, putting an emphasis on actions such as natural disasters and wars that have the capacity to destroy entire cities.

Cortesía de Arata Isozaki & Associates

In Incubation Process (1962), Isozaki reflects:

“The ruins that formed my childhood environment were produced by acts of sudden destruction…wandering among them instilled in me awareness of the phenomenon of obliteration, rather than a sense of the transience of things.”  

Although Isozaki was never formally part of the group of the Metabolists, his initial vision of the sixties was associated with the movement. In 1962, he created a futurist proposal reclining on the idea of the metamorphosis of the city: "City in the Air".

City in the Air is a project of capsules suspended in the air over cylindrical and modular megastructures. These structures permit the expansion and the reorganization of the urban space, incorporating or removing units of capsules in order to satisfy in real time the necessities of the residents. Meanwhile, the foundations of the towers resembled enormous craters left by bombs, making a reference to the clouds of smoke raised during the bombardment by the United States during the Second World War.

For Arata Isozaki, the city is destined to be destroyed. A ruin is the future of our city and the future is the ruin itself. In Incubation Process, he says:

Cortesía de Arata Isozaki & Associates

“Future cities are themselves ruins. Our contemporary cities…are destined to live only a fleeting moment. Give up their energy and return to inert material. All of our proposals will be buried. And once again the incubation mechanism is reconstituted. That will be our Future”

At the moment in which City in the Air was proposed, Tokyo had limited the maximum height of construction to 31 meters. Isozaki said:

"Tokyo is hopeless…I am leaving everything below 30 meters to others. If they think they can unravel the mess in this city, let them try. I will think about architecture and the city above 30 meters. An empty lot of 10 square meters is all I need on the ground. I will erect a column there, and that column will be both a structural column and a channel for vertical circulation."

With almost 60 years since its creation, City in the Air is a timeless work by Arata Isozaki. Popularized thanks to a black and white photomontage that survives in the times of the internet, the project is a declaration of architectural principles: flexible, mobile and capable to satisfy the constant necessities and requirements of its users.

[1] Helen Levin, “Clusters in the Air detail”
Accessed March 05, 2019
[2] Mark Jarzombek, “Positioning the Global Imaginary: Arata Isozaki, 1970”
Accessed March 05, 2019
[3] Arata Isozaki, “Incubation Process”

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Cite: María Francisca González. "The City in the Air by Arata Isozaki" [La Ciudad en el Aire de Arata Isozaki] 08 Mar 2019. ArchDaily. (Trans. Johansson, Emma) Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

© The Pritzker Architecture Prize


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