Tuesday, July 19, 2011

R.I.P. Seiken

A dead ringer for a tomb stone, this marker stands at the entrance to a fragment of the old Seiken (the Japanese acronym for the Institute of Industrial Science), the building where I once went to school.

For years this oblong, donut-shaped structure with "research laboratories" lining its full perimeter belonged to Tokyo University. Dark and creepy, it was a real throw back to a bygone era. By the time I got there, parts of the building were no longer even in use (a frequent occurrence at Todai).

And peering in through the windows or glazed doorways often yielded a view of outdated scientific equipment. Still, I appreciated the sense of history embedded in its concrete walls and those wide stairways evoked a sense of grandeur that once was. I do not know its exact dates, but my guess is that Seiken was built right after WW II.

Much to my chagrin, the building wasn't quite torn down to make room for Kisho Kurokawa's National Art Gallery. But in some ways, I wish it had been. I really hate Japan's penchant for saving parts of buildings. This tendency goes way beyond the usual facadism -- many countries are guilty of literally saving (just) the face of historic buildings. For some reason, people in high places in Japan think it is better to save a fragment of a building. I realize that full-scale renovation may not have been practical due to seismic concerns and expense (I am giving them the benefit of the doubt here). But frankly, letting the building live on in our memories would have been a more dignified ending. This spiffed up exterior looks ersatz and I'll bet the interior has been converted into a memorial lecture hall --it always is. R.I.P. Let Seiken rest in peace!

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