Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Don’t hide the historical views.

Chronicle from Kyoto. Jordi Juste.
Don’t hide the historical views.
The City council made public recently a set of measures to protect some of the most emblematic views of Kyoto. The municipal plan will ban new constructions impeding any of 38 scenic views, inventoried with descriptions so detailed as “mount Hiei from the garden of the Entsuji temple” or “mount Daimonji from the Kamo river”. In addition, the maximum height for new buildings will be lowered from the present 45 meters to 31. But in no case licenses will be granted to constructions that, although within the height limits, interfere with some of the 38 catalogued views.
The new policy also includes the elimination in six years of all billboards, and any kind of boards in roofs. At present, they are already limited to some entertainment areas. The council has also detailed some of the architectonic styles and materials that must be used in new constructions in the perimeter of buildings with historical or artistic value, such as those included in UNESCO’s World Heritage list, like the Buddhist temples Toji, Kyomizudera and Ryoanji , the Kamigamo Shinto shrine or Nijo palace.
Hidden beauty.
Contrary to what many people can think, knowing the list of palaces, temples and sanctuaries in the city, Kyoto does not offer an easy to see monumentality. Unlike what happens in many European cities, to enjoy the beauty of most of the historical buildings of the old capital of Japan one needs to enter its precincts. In addition, decades of uncontrolled growth have largely destroyed the harmony of most of the streets, planting apartment and office buildings of diverse heights and styles where, until recently, there where only machiya (wooden, traditional two floor houses).
One think Kyoto can still be proud of is the fact that, from many places in the city, one can still enjoy the vision of some of the mountains that lock it up in the east, north and west. Among them, there are mount Atago, in Arashiyama, the above mentioned Hiei, and the Daimonji and the other four hills that have engraved huge Chinese ideograms that every 16 of August are set on fire to culminate Obon, the Buddhist celebration of the return of the souls.
On top of the mentioned restrictions, the building conditions will become harder for new constructions inside a radius of 500 meters of catalogued buildings. For example, in the environs of Kyomizudera, roofs will have to be build using traditional Japanese tiles and in the Kirizuma, Yosemune or Irimoya styles.
The new measures to protect Kyoto’s urban landscape come ten years after the opening of the new central train station, a massive building of 60 meters of height per 470 of length, that was largely criticized for breaking the city style and its height limits. Today, Kyoto Station is already part of the city’s artistic patrimony and one more of its tourist attractions.

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