Competing Constructivisms: Modern Architecture and Design in Japan and Korea, c. 1925-1940

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This dissertation focuses on a set of dynamic Japanese and Korean architects and artists who, during the interwar period, actively adopted and transformed the principles of Russian Constructivism, the Bauhaus, and International Architecture into their own artistic style. This study provides the first comprehensive study of the multifaceted connections between Europe, Japan, and Korea to explore the richness of this relatively underrepresented, but decisive, modern aesthetic impulse.

Prior to and during the period of the activities of the two major architectural groups in Japan, Bunriha Kenchikukai (1920-1928) and the Sousha (1923-1932), Yamaguchi Bunzo (1902-1978), the leader of the Sousha, demonstrated a strong commitment to Marxism and promoted gorishugi kenchiku (rationalist architecture), which acted on his vision of social transformation through a rationalist and functional approach to architectural design. In contrast, Yamawaki Iwao (1898-1987) enjoyed a rather socially neutral perspective of Constructivism and searched for a synthesis between the principles of the Bauhaus style and traditional Japanese interior designs of private houses. Furniture designer Kurata Chikatada (1895-1966), the leader of Keiji Kobo (1928-1940), employed the idea of standardization derived from the Bauhaus workshops, and tried to find a way to mass-produce handcrafts.

Whereas Yamaguchi, Yamawaki, and Kurata used Constructivism to open up a wide field of modernist opportunity and inventiveness, Korean architects and artists, who worked under circumstances defined mostly by the colonial status of the nation, embraced the international movement only in a rather informative and redemptive way--a "local" way to assert a suppressed national dynamism. The first generation of Korean architects, which included Park Gil-ryong (1898-1943) and Park Dong-jin (1899-1981), suggested a way to incorporate the qualities of Constructivist style into Korean homes. Korean artists Lee Sun-seok (1905-1986) and Yoo Youngkuk (1916-2002), who studied in Tokyo during the 1930s, adapted the Constructivist style to suit the local customs and artistic conventions of Korea after they returned to their homeland. This comparative study will provide new insights into the history of modern architecture and design in Japan and Korea and a reassessment of the significance of these architects and designers who, from the mid-1920s, contributed to make Constructivism internationally recognized.