Now this is what I call an Importance Statement

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The attention-grabbing building above, called the Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower, is in Shinjuko, Tokyo, one of the main centres of the vast capital of Japan. Completed in October 2008 and designed by Kenzo Tange, Japan’s most famous architect, it sits between the major railway interchange hub and a burgeoning business district that includes the impressive twin towers of the Tokyo Municipal Headquarters. The architect’s brief included the stipulation that the building should not be rectangular –  something that has very clearly been achieved.

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Now you might be forgiven for thinking that the building, with its 50 floors, is perhaps a luxury apartment building or hotel, or at the very least the headquarters of a multi-national company. But you’d be wrong, because it’s a University building. Described as a ‘vertical campus’ for 10,000 students it is occupied by three vocational departments – the Tokyo Mode Gakuen Fashion School, the HAL Tokyo School of Information Technology and Design, and the Shuto Ikō School of Medicine. It incorporates a 3-storey high atrium “to substitute as a ‘schoolyard’, called the ‘Student Lounge’ and multi-use corridors where communication can flourish.”

Tange’s design is intended to represent a cocoon, and as such symbolize  the academic care that is provided, and “Embraced within this incubating form, students are inspired to create, grow and transform.

It was awarded the 2008 Skyscraper of the Year by Emporis.com.

And it’s not alone. The Mode Gakuen Spiral Towers is a similar 36 story vocational educational facility just outside Nagoya Railway station, also completed in 2008.

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There’s no question that these structures make a clear statement of intent as to the importance Japan places on its vocational education.

Fast forward (or should that be backwards?) to 2012, and here’s Michael Gove defining the way forward for school buildings in the UK:

We won’t be getting Richard Rogers to design your school. We won’t be getting any award-winning architects to design it, because no one in this room is here to make architects richer.”

And according to the Guardian at the time:

“Design templates unveiled for 261 replacement school buildings also prohibit folding internal partitions to subdivide classrooms, roof terraces that can be used as play areas, glazed walls and translucent plastic roofs.”

The templates tell architects new schools should have:

“no curves or ‘faceted’ curves, corners should be square, ceilings should be left bare and buildings should be clad in nothing more expensive than render or metal panels above head height. As much repetition as possible should be used to keep costs down”.

In this case, there’s no question that these guidelines make a clear statement of intent as to the lack of importance the UK places on its vocational education.

 

Photos © Tristram Shepard