Beautiful Brutalism: 3 Concrete Havens in Saga Prefecture

BRutalist architecture in Japan preceded the more well-known Metabolism movement, of which Tokyo’s Nakagin Capsule Tower was one of the most recognizable examples. Both styles heavily favor concrete as the main material and geometric styles to create a strikingly unnatural design.

It’s hard to pinpoint Japan’s initial massive shift toward concrete — and, accordingly, its move away from wood — to a specific time in history, though one theory suggests this significant change started in the mid-1920s. One primary factor was likely the devasting Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, as a considerable percentage of the death toll was attributed to fires fueled by the debris of wooden houses.

While notable Brutalist institutions worldwide are being dismantled, demolished or renovated, some of Saga’s most prominent municipal facilities remain examples of Japan’s past Brutalist. Three structures in particular stand out and make a great stop for any solo traveler through Kyushu. All of them are within walking distance of each other and located near the Saga Castle ruins.

Saga Prefectural Library. Photo by Atsurio Cantabrio, licensed under CC BY 4.0

Saga Prefectural Library (1962)

Designed by Teiichi Takahashi and Yoshichika Uchida, the Saga Prefectural Library encompasses hints of Saga culture throughout the building — notably the Aritayaki tiles that contrast with the concrete walls. The structure was designed for optimal use, and to this day, most of the library’s rooms and spaces function as intended by the architects.

Ichimura Memorial Gymnaiusm. Photo by Atsurio Cantabrio, licensed under CC BY 4.0

Ichimura Memorial Gymnasium (1963)

Junzo Sakakura was one of a handful of Japanese architects who apprenticed under Le Corbusier and led the Brutalist movement in Japan. He designed Saga’s Ichimura Memorial Gymnasium, which used to host various sporting events and welcome just over 800 spectators. Although the memorial is no longer used as a sports facility, it continues to host cultural exhibitions throughout the year. Its façade is reminiscent of a tiara and the concave roof gives the entire structure an overall saddle shape from above.

Saga Prefectural Museum (1970)

Built in the shape of a cross where each arm features a suspended block of concrete, the Saga Prefectural Museum houses artifacts, sculptures and pottery representatives of the region. Visitors enter through the lobby, which is at the very center of the cross. From there, four staircases take you up to the exhibition rooms. This building, too, was designed by architects Teiichi Takahashi and Yoshichika Uchida.

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