Of Iron, Concrete and Muscle: Architecture of Tekkon Kinkreet

September 10, 2009

Tekkon Kinkreet

If you liked Michael Arias’ fantastic Tekkon Kinkreet, then you may want to read this excellent article on various artistic influences on the movie. There are few things in this article that proved highly relevant to my interest (and hopefully yours as well), which I would like to take a more detailed look in this post.

The first thing I want to talk about is that according to the article, Lebbeus Woods (one of my favourite architects) was apparently the inspiration for the design of Snake’s (villain’s) surreal headquarters, which you can see below for comparison. It should be noted that Snake is a character who wants to demolish the old streets, drive out the poor, and construct new theme park to generate revenue by attracting richer populations around the town.

tekkon kinkreet

Above: Lebbeus Woods, Below: Tekkon Kinkreet

What intrigues me here is that the Woods’ intentions are exactly the opposite of everything symbolically embodied by Snake’s building, despite the fact that the look and feel of both structures are quite similar. “You can’t bring your old habits here, if you want to participate you will have to reinvent yourself”. While Woods intentionally designed aggressive machinelike steel exteriors and cramped interiors to screen out the bourgeois and provide for the common people (such as his Berlin sketches), Snake’s building evokes that coldy technological sensation to represent Snake’s intention to drive out the poor and make an expensive theme park for the bourgeois. Rather than accepting the scars as it is and expressing it, Snake sees old streets of Takaramachi as ‘broken parts’ and has no qualm about removing it and replacing it with something new. While Woods rejects trendy commissions to chase his imaginative ideals much like Shiro, Snake has absolutely no intentions other than making money with his futuristic theme park.

Interior of the headquarter was probably inspired too

Interior of the headquarter was probably inspired by the same building sketches

But just because Snake’s building was inspired by Woods, that doesn’t mean it must imitate or emulate Woods’ ideals. The creative designers of Tekkon Kinkreet has taken the look and feel of Woods’ buildings and turned it into something original, something more coldly against the poor rather than providing for the poor. Wonderful.

tekkon kinkreet

je ne sais quoi

The previously mentioned article also said something interesting about the fusion between historical Showa Era buildings styles with speculative architecture, mixing of the old and new. There’s a confusing mix of various traditional elements from different parts of the globe here (including Indian and Korean and I’m sure there’s more), but it’s shrouded in a mist of urbanisation. Ugly sign boards pop up everywhere, electrical wires over the buildings like sticky web, pieces of planks and frameworks here and there as unpleasant signs of continuous development. There doesn’t seem to be much, if any, codes to regulate heights, colours or those bizarre objects protruding out from top of  the buildings. I can imagine the past town to be more of quiet place, with just enough local working community to support each other. What we see now has lost its sense of place or identity.

tekkon kinkreettekkon kinkreet

tekkon kinkreet

I know Arias wanted the town to reflect how he sees Japan, but the streets look a lot like many other streets in Asia that have undergone similar urban transformations. The one you see above for example is a random backstreet in Korea.

tekkon kinkreet

Speaking of Korean, the sign says that it's a chicken soup restaurant

tekkon kinkreet

Streets like this are still charming, but it won't be long until the urban growth forces it to change its form and identity

tekkon kinkreet

Characters too, must choose to either transform or perish against the unstoppable monster called "change". It can not be stopped, and what once was will never be again.

Tekkon Kinkreet (Tek-kin/Concrete) is apparently a play of the words “iron”, “concrete” and “muscle”. Steel and concrete rises, forcefully transforming the traditional identity and living conditions. And as if to reflect this state of change, the characters of Tekkon Kinkreet are thrown into a war against themselves. A war against the self that wants to change in order to survive, and the self that cherish their values, beliefs and identity over everything else. The battle will be tough, and it may be much easier to succumb to Snake’s power, or the darkness inside you. But perhaps you have something to fight for, something that shouldn’t be taken away. Because even if you survive and feel more at ease, if it’s taken away, then what are you?

Architecture is war. War is architecture. I am at war with my time, with history, with all authority that resides in fixed and frightened forms. I am one of millions who do not fit in, who have no home, no family, no doctrine, no firm place to call my own, no known beginning or end, no “sacred and primordial site.” I declare war on all icons and finalities, on all histories that would chain me with my own falseness, my own pitiful fears. I know only moments, and lifetimes that are as moments, and forms that appear with infinite strength, then “melt into air.”

– Lebbeus Woods

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14 Responses to “Of Iron, Concrete and Muscle: Architecture of Tekkon Kinkreet”

  1. Interesting, while nowhere as perceptive as your observations (nor with interesting architecture as your subject’s), I noticed somewhat similar things in the depiction of Hong Kong in Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell


  2. bateszi Says:

    If you haven’t already, I really recommend picking up Viz’s release of the Tekkonkinkreet manga (it’s all collected into one big volume); Taiyo Matsumoto is a genius, basically, and his art is really inspiring.

  3. gaguri Says:


    Interesting you posted those pics of Hong Kong streets because there a lot of similarities. I haven’t been to Hong Kong but I imagine those streets would feel more lively than what is depicted in GITS or Blade Runner, funny how they turned it into something so cold and dehumanised.


    I’m more of anime guy than manga guy but since it comes from your recommendation, I will keep that in my mind =D

  4. 2DT Says:

    This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, said by Spider Jerusalem in Transmetropolitan:

    “We live in a monoculture. What does that mean? Well, go out to your street corner. You’ll probably see a Long Pig stand, SPKF on a screen somewhere, an Angry Boy Dylan’s Gun Store. You’ll go into a record store and see new recordings by the usual suspects, maybe a special Space Culture display rack.

    Go out onto a streetcorner in London and you’ll see the same thing. Same in Prague. Same in Sao Paulo. Same in Osaka, and Grozny, and Tehran, and Jo’burg, and Hobart. That’s what a monoculture is. It’s everywhere, and it’s all the same. And it takes up alien cultures and digests them and shits them out in a homogeneous building-block shape that fits seamlessly into the vast blank wall of the monoculture.

    This is the future. This is what we built. This is what we wanted. It must have been. Because we all had a fucking choice, didn’t we? It is only our money that allows commercial culture to flower. If we didn’t want to live like this, we could have changed it any time, by not fucking paying for it.

    So let’s celebrate by all going out and buying the same burger.”

    The world of Tekkonkinkreet seems colorful and vibrant and fun, but living in it must be a hodgepodge nightmare. Now I’ll have to see this movie.

  5. gaguri Says:

    You’re right in that it is painful for many characters to see their beloved town change into something they don’t understand, something they are afraid of. And yes, see the movie =)

  6. Quick Star Says:

    I’m sorry for being off topic, I know this is too much to ask but do you like exchanging links? I already added you in my blog roll http://animemmorpgs.blogspot.com I hope you grant my request and be included in your sidebar… Thank you very much ^^

  7. Cello Says:

    SUPER interesting. This aspect should have been like an extra in the dvd. Crazy informative and insightful stuff, great post. Oh, and just in case, this was teh first film I ever reviewed on my blog coincidentally:


  8. gaguri Says:

    Glad to know that it proved informative.

    And ah, I see that I’ve already commented on that review of yours long time ago. I agree with much of your analysis, being that it is very expressive and visual, but not as strong on the plot side, and being bit rushed as well towards the end (despite it being nearly 2 hour film…).

  9. pvrhye Says:

    Seems to me both artists wanted to put off who they felt were the more discerning person. They just differed on who cared more.

    By the way. You live in Seoul?

  10. gaguri Says:

    I’m a Korean currently living in Sydney. Although in a not so distant future I might be living in Seoul temporarily (1 year?) before returning to Sydney again.

  11. pvrhye Says:

    Figured I’d check. I’m not korean, but I live there. Don’t know anyone else with more than a passing fondness for animation here though.

  12. gaguri Says:

    Haha, I’m sure you’ll find many hardcore fans of Japanese animation there, although I guess you won’t find too many interested in animations like Secret of Kells or Tekkon Kinkreet. But you could say pretty much the same applies to countries like Australia too, we happen to be fans of something extremely niche within a niche.

  13. […] further details visit this blog for more background on the movie and it’s […]

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