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In the wake of World War II, Japan has suffered major casualties. Aiming to restore themselves, traditional values had to be modernised and Japan was subjected to a period of westernisation. It was believed that the western movement of modernism would be able to symbolise progress again. However, the desire of progress also led to the rising of Japan’s metabolist movement in the 1960s. They adapted the ideas of modernism into incorporating inhabitants as a building’s identity and merging a city into a single organism. The metabolists attempt to revive vernacular ideas, using iconic precedents such as the sliding walls of the Katsura Imperial Villa and constant rebuilding of the Ise Grand Shrine as influences to justify their central idea. And as their visions became prominent, more ambitious young architects began to join their ranks. Toyo Ito was no different. Despite having an internship with one of the movement’s founders, Kiyonori Kikutake, Ito was quickly disillusioned by the concrete and inhuman future of metabolism that awaits Japan. Despite this, Ito still valued the original ideas of metabolism, and when he was tasked with designing a house for his recently widowed sister and her family, he used the opportunity to explore and experiment with ideas. With the extreme merging of multiple conflicting architectural movements of modernism, metabolism, and the prevailing postmodernism, Toyo Ito created the White U: a monolithic mutation for a mourning mother. Known as one of the most radical house of the twentieth century, the White U changed the setting of contemporary architecture, renewed the cultural confidence for Japan, and became the bedrock of Ito’s constantly evolving theories. 

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The White U was Ito’s method of retaliating against tendencies, predictability and social problems of the 1960s and 1970s. Japan began to experience a rapid economic growth, and the sudden rise in urbanisation was unparalleled. Apartments and LDK (Living, Kitchen and Dining room) family housing plans became omnipresent as they succeeded the traditional small houses of Tokyo. Consumer culture began expanding and the advance in manufacturing brought along ecological contamination that caused cancer, incurable disease and physical deformities which halted Japan’s progress. Ito, who was searching for the context of architecture after his disappointment at the declining metabolism, became fascinated by the works of Kazou Shinohara. Shinohara believed that the only way architecture could change the world, should not be advocating theoretical social visions like metabolism but instead creating what would be perceived as private utopias: “small, modest spaces to nurture and protect the individual spirit from outside pressures of a corrupting society” .