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Continuing the legacy: In conversation with the second generation of three architects

Vladimir Belogolovsky recalls interviewing Japanese architect Paul Tange, Danish architect Kim Utzon, and Mexican architect Victor Legorreta, the sons of three great architects.

by Vladimir BelogolovskyPublished on : Dec 07, 2022

Paul Noritaka Tange heads Tokyo-based Tange Associates, founded in 1946 by his father Kenzo Tange (1913-2005), the most influential Japanese architect in postwar Japan and the design genius behind iconic works such as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum (1955), twin sports arenas—gymnasium and swimming pool—for the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics, and Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office (1991).

Paul was born in Tokyo in 1958 and grew up in the family Tange senior formed with his second wife, Takako. When Paul was 14, his parents sent him to a boarding school in Switzerland where they could visit him frequently; at the time his father’s office had more work outside of Japan, particularly in Europe. Paul did not study architecture in Japan; he earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Harvard Graduate School of Design where his father taught in 1972. Paul graduated in 1985 and immediately was summoned by his father to join his firm.

Tange junior took over Tange Associates in 1997. The architect’s first major independent work, a 50-storey Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower was completed in 2008; it won an international competition two years earlier, shortly after Tange senior died. His more recent project, a 15,000-seat Tokyo Aquatics Center, was inaugurated in 2020 as one of the key venues for the 2020 Summer Olympics, making it a unique precedent when father and son architects built two swimming pools for two different Olympics, 56 years apart. I met Paul Tange at his office in Tokyo in March 2018. He told me that his father never pushed him to become an architect. At the same time, he admitted, “It is true, everything my family did was always related to architecture… I didn’t really know as much about other professions, so it happened naturally.” We spoke about different topics, but here I want to focus on their father-son connection.

  • Kenzo Tange, 1964 Olympics arenas | Paul Tange, Kim Utzon, and Victor Legorreta | STIRworld
    Kenzo Tange, 1964 Olympics arenas Image: © Osamu Murai
  • Paul Tange, Tokyo Aquatic Center, 2020 | Paul Tange, Kim Utzon, and Victor Legorreta | STIRworld
    Paul Tange, Tokyo Aquatic Center, 2020 Image: © Tokyo 2020

Vladimir Belogolovsky (VB): Did you grow up in the famous house that your father designed and built in 1953?

Paul Tange (PT): You know, I never lived in that house. I grew up in a condominium. The house you are referring to was built by my father with his first wife. That house was eventually turned down. 

VB: What happened?

PT: He didn’t want to keep that house. There is now another building that stands there. I think he demolished it for a reason…He would say, “It isn’t good for an architect to design his own house.” He joked that every family member can complain, but he, the architect, couldn’t do that.

  • Kenzo Tange’s House (1953, demolished) | Paul Tange, Kim Utzon, and Victor Legorreta | STIRworld
    Kenzo Tange’s House (1953, demolished) Image: © Yasuhiro Ishimoto
  • Kenzo Tange’s famous house that he built and designed in 1953 | Paul Tange, Kim Utzon, and Victor Legorreta | STIRworld
    Kenzo Tange’s famous house that he built and designed in 1953 Image: © Fumio Murasawa

VB: Did you follow his advice?

PT: I did. I did not design a house for my family because I didn’t want everyone complaining about it, and not being able to complain myself. I have designed houses for my good friends, but very few. A house is a very personal project; I feel that I must understand the person well for that.

VB: At what point did you decide to study architecture?

PT: I remember being on a trip with my father on a hot summer day in Bologna, Italy. Everything was closed and we had a very bad meal at the central train station. I told him about my decision over that meal. There was a long silence and then he said: “All right, it’s your life. Do what you really want to do.” Now that I recall it, I tend to think that as we sat in silence, he was happy for me. I think any father should be happy to hear about his son wanting to follow in his footsteps. I am sure he was also thinking about how hard it is to be an architect, a good one, anyway. He was both happy and concerned.  

  • Paul Tange, Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower, Tokyo, 2008 | Paul Tange, Kim Utzon, and Victor Legorreta | STIRworld
    Paul Tange, Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower, Tokyo, 2008 Image: © Koji Horiuchi
  • The Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower in Tokyo, built in 2008 by architect Paul Tange | Paul Tange, Kim Utzon, and Victor Legorreta | STIRworld
    The Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower in Tokyo, built in 2008 by architect Paul Tange Image: © Koji Horiuchi

VB: You joined your father’s firm right after your graduation from GSD. What was the urgency?

PT: I had no choice about that.

VB: Was it his decision then?

PT: Yes. I submitted my thesis project on my birthday, January 31. My father called me that day, which was rare, as it was typically my mother who called, and she would pass the phone to my father after a few words saying, “Here. It’s your son.” But on that day, it was he who called. I thought—oh, he either remembered my birthday or he wanted to know how I did on my thesis. I was very happy, but it was neither of those things. He started, “I reserved your ticket. You get on the plane tomorrow to come back to Tokyo. I will have two hours to explain my project to you. There is an important presentation in Japan, but I must go to Paris. Don’t worry, my deputy is going to present it and you just sit there. We need Tange in the room.” That’s how I started working for my father.

Victor Legorreta, Pavilion Hacienda Matao, 2014 | Paul Tange, Kim Utzon, and Victor Legorreta | STIRworld
Victor Legorreta, Pavilion Hacienda Matao, 2014 Image: © Cristiano Mascaro

Victor Legorreta is the youngest son of six kids—three boys and three girls—of one of the most renowned Mexican architects, Ricardo Legorreta (1937-2011), whose masterpieces include Camino Real hotel in Mexico City (1968), Papalote Children’s Museum and Planetarium (1993), and San Antonio Public Library (1995). Victor is the only architect among his siblings. One of his sisters studied architecture but became an architectural photographer, now collaborating with the firm. The family lived in a house right next to the office, which Legorreta senior established in 1965. Naturally, Victor was in the thick of architecture his entire childhood. He told me, “Still, my father never tried to push me into architecture, and I was hesitating as well because I knew that people would always want to compare us.”

Even after Victor picked architecture as his major at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City, from which he graduated in 1990, he admitted to me that he remained a rebel. At school, he resisted showing his father his work. During his student years, he spent several summers working for other architects in Europe and Japan. Upon graduating, Legorreta senior said to his son, "Why don’t you start working with some of my friends?” But already in 1991, Victor joined his father’s firm. In 2000 the practice was renamed LEGORRETA + LEGORRETA. Since Ricardo’s passing, the firm has been known simply as LEGORRETA. I spoke with Victor Legorreta at his office in Mexico City in June 2017.

Papalote Children's Museum and Planetarium, 1993, planetarium 2003, renovation 2016 | Paul Tange, Kim Utzon, and Victor Legorreta | STIRworld
Papalote Children's Museum and Planetarium, 1993, planetarium 2003, renovation 2016 Image: © Ma. Dolores Robles-Martinez Gómez

VB: Before you came to work for your father, you interned with other architects, including Fumihiko Maki in Tokyo. Could you touch on that?

Victor Legorreta (VL): Well, I wanted to experience different cultures and because my father met so many architects around the world, I could choose places where I wanted to work. So, I worked in Los Angeles, Barcelona, and then Japan, as you mentioned. I also wanted to work with Aldo Rossi. I went to see him in New York where he had his office in the 90s, but at that time, my father received an invitation to take part in a competition for the Children’s Museum here in Mexico City, so he asked me to come back to work on that project together. He said that he didn’t have a team for that project, so he asked me to come and bring some of my friends to put together a team. I brought my friends and we won the competition. [Laughs.] It was the Papalote Children’s Museum and Planetarium built in 1993. Years later, we were hired for its extension and remodelling, which was completed in 2016. 

VB: Did you have a fear of being too much in your father's shadow?

VL: Yes. My father was still quite young, and he was open to new ideas. On the other hand, he had a very strong personality. He was dominating and he had his own ways of doing things. I was just 24 when I started working here. I was very excited and, sometimes, I would even do my own sketches on top of his, just to do some things differently. [Laughs.] Overall, we had a very good relationship. We worked together for about 24 years. Of course, in the beginning, he was making all the major decisions because I was just a kid, but soon I began to be completely involved and became a full partner. In the end, our roles flipped. He became my mentor and advisor when I started running the office. He worked here until the very end. I miss him being around and being able to discuss work and ask for his advice.  

VB: How would you summarise his influence on your architecture and how did it affect your work?

VL: Of course, although it is not very popular to admit it now, he had a very strong and recognisable style of architecture. That surely influenced me, but what affected me a lot more is the passion he put into his work. Architecture was constantly on his mind, and he often worked on weekends. He devoted all his efforts and passion to work. He always tried to improve his work.

VB: Have you ever tried to invent your own distinctive style in opposition to your father’s?

VL: I never thought of inventing my own style, but I always tried to challenge what I thought of as my father’s architecture. I tried to use forms and materials that he typically avoided, such as curved walls, domes, or brick. He was receptive to my ideas. But I didn’t really want to do something completely different or my own signature-style architecture; the idea was to open possibilities.

Kim Utzon, Dunkers Kulturhus, 2002 | Paul Tange, Kim Utzon, and Victor Legorreta | STIRworld
Kim Utzon, Dunkers Kulturhus, 2002 Image: Courtesy by Kim Utzon Arkitekter

Kim Utzon is the youngest of Jørn Utzon’s three children. He and both of his siblings— his brother Jan Utzon, a practising architect, and his sister Lin Utzon, a ceramic artist—collaborated closely with their father who was in independent practice since 1950. Apart from his world-renowned masterpiece, the Sydney Opera House (1973), Jørn Utzon (1918-2008) is known for his Bagsværd Church on the outskirts of Copenhagen (1976), Kuwait National Assembly Building (1982), and Utzon Center in Aalborg, Denmark, on which he collaborated with Kim; it was completed in 2008, the year Utzon senior passed away.

Kim was born in 1957, the year his father won the competition to design the Sydney Opera House. He was six-years-old when his whole family moved to Australia and remained there for three years when in 1966, Utzon was forced by the new Australian government to resign from the project.

Utzon junior studied architecture at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts from 1976 to 1981. Before starting his own firm, Kim Utzon Arkitekter in Copenhagen in 1987, he was a part of Utzon Architects. His most notable works include Dunkers Kulturhus (2002) and Harbor House II (2010), both in Copenhagen’s harbour. We spoke at his office in the Danish capital, in September 2012.

VB: How was it to grow up in the house that your father built?

Kim Utzon (KU): The original house was built in 1952. It was the very first house my father built. It was a very small, open-plan volume built of exposed brick. Originally, there were three bedrooms and an open living room anchored by a central fireplace and an open kitchen back to back. A bigger wing was added in 1962. The house was built in the middle of a forest in the small town of Hellebæk, the northern suburb of Copenhagen and near Kronborg Castle in Elsinore where Prince Hamlet once ruled Denmark. The house was the first modernist house built in Denmark after the Second World War. It is very strict and Danish in terms of the use of space and brick. It is also based on such models as the Japanese house and projects by Frank Lloyd Wright. In fact, my father graduated from school in 1942 and after working in Stockholm during the War and returning to Denmark after the Nazi occupation, he went to the United States in 1949 on a travel grant. He and my mother, Lis Utzon, left my older brother and sister with my grandparents for eight months to be able to go there. In America, he met Wright and visited many of his buildings.

Jørn Utzon, Sydney Opera House, Diagram of circular solution for shells, 1961 | Paul Tange, Kim Utzon, and Victor Legorreta | STIRworld
Jørn Utzon, Sydney Opera House, Diagram of circular solution for shells, 1961 Image: Courtesy of Jan Utzon

VB: You and your brother, Jan followed your father’s footsteps into architecture, while your sister, Lin became an artist. There is no coincidence that all three of you chose creative professions, right?

KU: Well, this goes a long way back because my father’s father, Aage Utzon was a naval engineer who managed shipyards in Aalborg and then in Elsinore. He spent over 50 years developing and refining sailboat construction. There is a long tradition in our family—if you have a particular interest you should try and develop it. In other words, if you like sailing, get a boat and learn how to sail. If you like tennis, get a tennis racket and play. If you like hunting, get a rifle, and so on. During my upbringing I tried all those things—sailing, sports, and, of course, art and architecture were the subjects my father talked a lot about at the dinner table. My parents met with a lot of well-known artists and architects. So that was always the mindset. As kids, we were pushed to draw and make things. For example, we were not allowed to buy gifts for our parents. We had to make something. Also, children often follow in the footsteps of their famous parents because the profession is such a strong factor that if you want to have a relationship with them you must play their game. Otherwise, you will not have a lot in common. I wanted to be accepted by my father and the same is true for both my brother and sister.

Kim Utzon, Henriksholm, 2012 | Paul Tange, Kim Utzon, and Victor Legorreta | STIRworld
Kim Utzon, Henriksholm, 2012 Image: Courtesy by Kim Utzon Arkitekter

VB: Could you touch on collaborating professionally with your father?

KU: Early on I wanted to get out of my father’s shadow and tried to be independent by working for other architects, but fortunately, I was asked both by my father and brother to work with them on a furniture showroom project. They were working on a large pier development and were very busy. So, for one summer we worked together with my father. It was a great collaboration, not as a father and son but rather as an older experienced architect and a younger architect. By that time my father was 65 and in the winter my parents lived in Mallorca, Spain. So, we corresponded through letters because he had no fax machine. It was a good experience because had my father been sitting next to me, he would have taken the pencil out of my hand and said, “Let’s do this.” But because we were far away it gave me time to think through my own solutions before he could respond by mail. And many of the choices I had to make on my own because some decisions had to be made urgently. While still working on this project I started my own practice. My first project was the house for my family. Both my father and brother have built their houses with their own hands and so did I.

Terroir + Kim Utzon Arkitekter, Tornhuset, Malmö, Sweden, 2014 | Paul Tange, Kim Utzon, and Victor Legorreta | STIRworld
Terroir + Kim Utzon Arkitekter, Tornhuset, Malmö, Sweden, 2014 Image: Courtesy of Terroir + Kim Utzon Arkitekter

VB: What is the main lesson that you learned from your father as an architect?

KU: We are all individuals. It is these individual choices that give your particular architecture a unique voice. In a way, there is nothing new under the sun. All houses are filled with references because architects who have designed them have seen many other houses before. But the strength of my father was that in search of inspiration he looked at everything. He was not limited just to modernism. For example, he was interested in architecture that was not necessarily done by architects. That is very liberating for any architect. When I look at projects by talented architects I am less interested in the actual result. Instead, I am interested in what the architect looked at for inspiration and references. I want to get down to the roots of things, to the very source of an idea.

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