Commemorating a ‘Picture of Peace’: framing architecture and urban space in Hiroshima, by Thomas Chung

If the A-bomb constituted the principal postwar metaphor for an intramundane apocalypse that transcended all previous eschatologies, Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park (1949-55) by Tange Kenzo transmuted the detonation site into the symbolic centerpiece of Hiroshima’s supreme reconstruction effort. To date it hosts the annual August 6th Peace Memorial Ceremony that rehearses the narrative perpetuating the city’s suffering as unparalleled testimony for world peace.

This paper explores the emergence of Hiroshima’s ethos as the exemplary city for ‘world peace’ within the post-war narrative of rebuilding Japan as a peace-loving democracy. The city’s relationship to surrounding territories will be considered by delineating its development from a prospering feudal castle town to a strategic wartime military base and its radical transfiguration by the A-bomb into the international mecca of peace. This will highlight modernist planning paradigms applied to Hiroshima as an exceptional case in Japanese urban planning history.

Hiroshima’s new urban order and the problematics of its fusion with an equally pervading aesthetic of ‘peace’ is then examined first through the commemorative space of the Peace Park, then in reciprocity with the filmic portrayal of the city in Alain Resnais and Marguerite Duras’ Hiroshima Mon Amour in order to interrogate the interwoven re-membering of ‘place’ as at once mnemonic, architectural and cinematic landscapes. Using analogical analyses of fragments, sequences and narrative of both, the paper attempts to illuminate alternative cross-readings of Tange’s architecture and Resnais’ film via the dialectics of destruction and renewal; memory, forgetting and repetition; love, war and death; violence, peace and suffering.

Tange’s heroic modernist architecture (with copious Corbusian inspiration) is interpreted as situated somewhere between a tabula rasa for reconstruction, a mnemonic landscape with sacred connotations, a decorous park surrounded by banal urbanity, ultimately recalling Tange’s entanglements with wartime fantasies. Hiroshima Mon Amour is analyzed for its abstract, modernist cinematic form depicting the Place de la Paix as part of an amnesic city, at once fissured and museal; coupled with an unsettling narrative of bourgeois love used to treat such a catastrophic theme. This paper contends that the suppressed irresolution in Tange’s alienating architecture – which Marguerite Duras calls “a Monument of Emptiness” – is mimicked in Resnais’ filmic anguish, with both embodying a neutralizing pacifism that serves to illuminate a fundamental ambiguity and
disorientation from a more profound understanding of an ethical ‘place of peace’.

Thomas Chung, Chinese University of Hong Kong, HK

Harvard Citation Guide: Chung, T. (2012) Commemorating a ‘Picture of Peace’: framing architecture and urban space in Hiroshima, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 06 May 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

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