Future Vision of Kyoto for the 21st Century

for the 21st Century by Dr. Dante N Bini Architect

"K 21" A simple, economic and bold idea KOJIKI


The author of this proposal is well aware of the privilege and honor of being invited to participate to this International Competition. In consideration of the magnitude and significance of this exceptional subject, and being aware of the importance of the aims of this Contest, he is attempting to meet this challenging project with both deep humility and bold sincerity.

Indeed he participates in this Competition with a profound reverence in respect to mythological Legends and pondered admiration about the inspiring History of the ancient Imperial City of Kyoto and her aristocratic, sophisticated, artistic past.

He also accept the privilege to participate to this Competition in the genuine effort of pursuing a professional, practical, but daring and totally innovative solution exhorted by the demanding spirit of the next coming century in accordance with the very Title of the  Competition itself and its significant guidelines.

  • This proposal is guided by the consciousness of the importance to find a gentle, spiritual and cultural bridge between the past, the present and the future.
  • This proposal is con ceived with the awareness of the need to direct the technological power of our times to our long term advantage.
  • This proposal dares to propose the 21st Century "Symbol" of the City Open to the Free Exchange of the World Cultures. 

In conceptualizing a Grand Vision to take the 1200 year old city of Kyoto into the next century, as conceived by the City Major Yorikane Masumoto, it is crucial that a deferential and respectful aptitude for the past and a broad foresight and a multilateral perspective for the time to come, is adopted. Extremely delicate issues must be addressed regarding a city which belongs to the culture of Japan, to the history of the world, to the hope of the future.

Kyoto's traditional artistic living habitat, rich in culture, harmony and gentleness,  in a grand vision must be carefully directed towards achieving the common good otherwise, as has too often happened in many occasions of the past, the cultural costs of the destruction of ancient traditions, the sociological price of loosing human dignity, the expense of ruining happy habitats for our future generations, together with environmental consequences of disrupting the delicate balance of our planet, will be intolerable not only for Japan but for the entire world.  We believe that "In searching for a new face of Kyoto" we should first draw poetic inspiration from the traditional Kojiki and Nihonnshoki where the mythologic regal legacy of the mirror of Amaterasuohmikami offers precious images rich in myths and legends still alive into the present culture.

Historic Considerations

In addition to Myths and Legends we should also be guided by history and its relationship with pre-historical facts hand-overed by "The Ancients". History tells us that the Emperor Kammu, in 784 first intended to moved his old capital from Nara (too far away from the sea) to Nagaoka in the province of Yamashiro. The construction of the new city started, but soon after consultations with geo-masters, ascendants, diviners and deities, convinced the Emperor to interrupt all works apparently initiated in a wrong site. The final site selected for his Imperial Palace was chosen between the two Katsuragawa and Kamogawa converging rivers where, in 794, he moved in his new Capital of Peace and Tranquillity:  Heian-kyo.  Emperor Kammu, modelled its new Imperial city on the old orderly fashion characterized by the city planning of a "more Ancient" Chinese Capital: Ch'ang-an of the Sui dynasty, now Sian.

History, in its reference with the "Ancients", offers fascinating coincidences: Just before the times of the Japanese Emperor Kammu, the Roman scholar Marcus Vitruvio Pollionis, won honors granted by Caesar Augustus, by writing his famous "Ten Books of Architecture" offered by the writer to the Roman Emperor as "Guide Lines for the Founding of a New City". In his book, written 27 years before Christ, Vitruvio theorized that, before embarking into the design of a new city, it was imperative to seek inspiration from the "Ancients". Vitruvio states that in establishing a new settlement, the "Ancients" (just like Emperor Kammu) would first search for a site gently sloped, surrounded by hills, sunny and fertile, provided with clean air, pure water and rich soil. He describes that the "Ancients" selected their sites by thoroughly examining the quality of feathers, hair, skin and livers of all type of local animals and analyzing leafs, flowers and fruits of all local plants. (Book I, chap. IV, page 12).

Another extraordinary historic coincidence: Vitruvio also suggested that the first task to be performed after selecting a site, should be the determination of a circular periphery of the city's walls surrounded by natural rivers, possibly not too far away from the sea, considered to be an excellent source of food and the best means to promote commerce. (Book I, chap. IV, page 16).  At her time Heian-kyo was an extra-modern Imperial Capital, she stood for what was lively and new, she was situated on a lovely site and was planned on an enormous scale with the help of the Minister for Home Affairs, Wake-no Kiyomaro. Her Imperial Palace, her Dignitaries' Buildings, her Government Offices, her Assembly Halls and Ceremonial Pavilions, her "special" houses were totally surrounded by walls into a great enclosed compound called Daidari provided with a single, grand gate facing South and called Suzaku.

Historically the formula of encircling towns with city-walls has been proven to be a very sound urban concept for a number of important reasons. Indeed until the beginning of last century, this formula was successfully implemented not only in Asia, but also in Europe. Since then, we have begun to destroy the boundaries of our cities, allowing for an indiscriminate overflow of irrational urbanization. These have flooded the surrounding areas without any control, causing the uncontrollable degradation of city's inner habitat and the devastation of its immediate surrounding cultivated fields, vital sources for food, idyllic serenity and physical well-being for the  inhabitants.

In relation to the present Kyoto Competition, a totally different, but extremely significant historical reference to "The Ancients", can be extrapolated from the 15th. Century:  The "Signoria di Firenze" (the Municipal Government of the present-day) in order to obtain the best possible contribution of ideas and in searching for the "State of the Art" in the aim to construct the largest dome in history, launched the most challenging and rewarding Competition of those times. The Competition was won by the celebrated Italian Renaissance Master, Filippo Brunelleschi because he, yes,  deeply studied the up-to-then unsurpassed masterpiece of the Pantheon's dome built by "The Ancient Romans" 1500 years before his time, but then he dared to propose an un-precedent and audacious, yet brilliant double-layered cupola, a gradually self-supporting structure which was entirely built in a very short time without any scaffolding (a technical and structural revolution in construction for his times).

Not only Brunelleschi won the biggest Competition of the year 1490 but, after 500 years his fantastic dome, with its 38 m. in diameter, remains the second largest free-span structure produced in history by the mankind and now it still stands as "the Symbol of Florence". Such an artistic and technical achievement will represent for ever a jewel in the history of architecture, in engineering design and in construction methods. With great cultural and practical benefit for both their cities, just like the Pantheon (now approaching the second millennium of existence!) the dome of "Santa Maria del Fiore" is admired by millions and millions of visitors every year as one of the greatest wanders of the world.