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5 6

Japanese aesthetics The art of Kaatsushika Hokusa


Traditional Japanese Architecture


Traditional architecture


Traditional spaces

14 Genkan 15 Washiki 15 Futon 16 O furo 16 Tatami


Shoji, fusuma and ranma

18 Engawau 20 Washitsu 20 Byobu 21 Kotatsu


Japanese address system


Traditional materials


Japanese woodworks

30 Origami


Contemporary architecture


36 Metabolism


Contemporary architects Contemporary examples


Japanese woodworks


The paper architecture

46 In-between spaces


Importance of nature

56 Spacial flexibility


Aesthetic of unfinished


bassa velocitĂ


analisi territoriale


il progetto strategico


Per approfondire



JAPANESE AESTHETICS Japanese culture is extremely diverse; despite this, in terms on the interior, the aesthetic is one of simplicity and minimalism. While talking about Japanese architecture, we mean the built structures of Japan and their context. A pervasive characteristic of Japanese architecture - and, indeed, of all the visual arts of Japan - is an understanding of the natural world as a source of spiritual insight and an instructive mirror of human emotion. An indigenous religious sensibility that long preceded Buddhism perceived that a spiritual realm was manifest in nature. Rock outcroppings, waterfalls, and gnarled old trees were viewed as the abodes of spirits and were understood as their personification. This belief system endowed much of nature with numinous qualities. It nurtured, in turn, a sense of proximity to and intimacy with the world of spirit as well as a trust in nature’s general benevolence. The cycle of the seasons was deeply instructive and revealed, for example, that immutability and transcendent perfection were not natural norms. The perfectly formed work of art or architecture, unweathered and pristine, was ultimately considered distant, cold, and even grotesque. Everything was understood as subject to a cycle of birth, fruition, death, and decay. Imported Buddhist notions of transience were thus merged with the indigenous tendency to seek instruction from nature. Attentive proximity to nature developed and reinforced an aesthetic that generally avoided artifice. In the production of works of art, the natural qualities of constitutive materials were given special prominence and understood as integral to whatever total meaning a work professed. Union with the natural was also an element of Japanese architecture. Architecture seemed to conform to nature. The borders existing between structures and the natural world were deliberately obscure. Elements such as long verandas and multiple sliding panels offered constant vistas on nature— although the nature was often carefully arranged and fabricated rather than wild and real. 5

Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849) was a Japanese artist, best known as author of the woodblock print series. He was one of Japan’s most prominent painters from the 19th century, who also made a big influence on his western contemporaries of Art Nouveau and Impressionism. Each of his images was made through a process whereby an image drawn on paper was used to guide the cutting of a wood block. This block was then covered with ink and applied to paper to create the image. The complexity of Hokusai’s images includes the wide range of colors he used, which required the use of a series of blocks for each of the colors used in the images. Mount Fuji is a popular subject for Japanese art due to its cultural and religious significance. This belief can be traced to The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, where a goddess deposits the elixir of life on the peak. Thus from an early time, Mt. Fuji was seen as the source of the secret of immortality, a tradition that was at the heart of Hokusai’s own obsession with the mountain.”




THE TRADITIONAL ARCHITECTURE The specific idea that a room’s true beauty is in the empty space within the roof and walls came from Laozi, a philosopher and the founder of Taoism, who held to the “aesthetic ideal of emptiness”, believing that the mood should be captured in the imagination, and not so heavily dictated by what is physically present. Japanese design is based strongly on craftsmanship, beauty, elaboration, and delicacy. The design of interiors is very simple but made with attention to detail and intricacy. This sense of intricacy and simplicity in Japanese designs is still valued in modern Japan as it was in traditional Japan. The Japanese aesthetic developed further with the celebration of imperfection and insufficiency, characteristics resulting from the natural ageing process or darkening effect. Shinto, the indigenous religious tradition of Japan, provides a basis for the appreciation of these qualities, holding to a philosophy of appreciation of life and the world in use and designed mostly with natural materials. Interiors are very simple, highlighting minimal and natural decoration. Traditional Japanese interiors, as well as modern, incorporate mainly natural materials including fine woods, bamboo, silk, rice straw mats, and paper shōji screens. Natural materials are used to keep simplicity in the space that connects to nature. Natural color schemes are used and neutral palettes including black, white, off-white, gray, and brown. Japanese architecture has traditionally been typified by wooden structures, elevated slightly off the ground, with tiled or thatched roofs. Wood is generally used for the framework of the home, but its properties are valuable in the Japanese aesthetic, namely its warmth and irregularity. Since the 19th century, however, Japan has incorporated much of Western, modern, and post-modern architecture into construction. Japanese interior design is very efficient in the use of resources. Traditional and modern Japanese interiors have been flexible The size of rooms can be altered by interior sliding walls or screens, the shōji. The spaces are used as multifunctional rooms. 10

The versatility of these dwellings becomes more apparent with changes of seasons. In summer, for example, exterior walls can be opened to bring the garden and cooling breezes in. As the traditional Japanese house does not have a designated use for each room, but there are some exeptions, which are permanently defined and strictly separated from the others: the entrance area (genkan), the kitchen, the bathroom (o furo), and toilet (wasiki). Apart from these any room can be a living room, dining room, study, the spaces are used as multifunctional rooms. The size or bedroom. This is possible because all of the rooms can be altered by interior sliding doors the necessary furniture is portable, being or walls. All the nessesary furniture is portable, stored in oshiire, a small section of the house allowing more space to be available during the day. This can be (large closets) used for storage. Cupboards realted to the japanese aesthetic ideal of the beauty of emptiness. built smoothly into the wall hide futon, mattresses pulled out before going to bed, allowing more space to be available during the day. everything has its own place and everything should be in place. It is important to note that in Japan, living room is expressed as ima, living “space�. Large traditional houses often have only one ima under the roof, while kitchen, bathroom, and toilet are attached on the side of the house as extensions. The whole interior in one large unit, and the space dividing is just a symbolic act, since it does not actually separate, only prevents a visible transparency.


TRANSITIONAL SPACES One of the most remarkable and inherent caracteristics of Japanese architecture is „transition space”, that area which lies between the exterior and interior space. The transition space forms a subtle connection without an abrupt change of spatial quality. Exterior, transition and interior spaces work together to form a serene environment so necessary in Japanese architecture. Overhangs extend beyond the primary spaces with sliding doors to gardens. There are also the subtle change of levels, which play an important role in linking the rich landscape to interior. Natural dark colors and subdued materials in the interior reflect indirect light from the outside. The light changes continously depending ont he time of day and season. The geometric patterns if the interior details contrast with the bright, vivid colors nad natural textures of the exterior. The Japanese planning mentality focuses on the interactions of private and public spaces. It’s a complex entity which emphasis on the intermediate “not-defined spaces” that has the possibility to contain human interactions, spaces to walk, talk to spend time in. Onion could be a good metaphora to describe Japanese transition spaces. There is no strict definition of inside or outside, there is no border that separates clearly, rather we are passing layer by layer from one to another. Japanese philosophy is thinking in juxtaposed relations with nature. It does not have the analythical way of thinking like in the Westen culture, but a synhetiser approach: It has an emotinal relationship with reality.


I have been thinking about architecture of in-between. For instance, the notion of “in-between” can unequivocally denote something unbeknownst to all when someone invokes “in between a city and a house.” The very culprit of our incomprehensibility can be revealed there spatially. We immediately ponder: What can that be? Yet, there is nothing concrete in between. In-between state is consistently transparent even if those “things” that constituted both extremities are corporeal. If such is the case, cannot we think that an ultimate architecture in a sense is what can be considered the architecture of inbetween? Architecture is relentlessly plagued by maladroit, inevitable formalism, opacity and confinement. However, let us imagine the architecture in which everything in-between arise weightlessly, crème-de-la-crème, and coarse residual sediments submerge. We can imagine the “architecture of in-between” as loci constituted solely by those in-between conditions. This is the architecture of dreams. Gradation will become the keyword for the future of architecture. For instance, there are infinite colorific degrees between white and black, and innumerable values between 1 and 0. Conventional architecture systematizes our world in the name of “functionalism,” as if clearly differentiated into black and white. However, our contemporary lives are sustained by myriads of unpredictable actions that lie between them. Unlike the internet, space is not capable of switching from 0 to 1 instantaneously. Conversely, the allure of space must lay in its ability to actualize in reality the possibilities of a gradation in between 0 and 1. Gradations lay dormant in diverse places. They can be found in between: interiority and exteriority; architecture and urbanism; furniture and architecture; private and public; theaters and museums; houses and streets; matter and space; morning and night; comprehensibility and incomprehensibility; and dynamism and immobility. In between multitude of concepts, we should be able to uncover unforeseen gradations and provide them new forms. The idea of gradation will herald the immense possibilities of architecture.

/Sou Fujimoto 13

genkan, the japanese entryway One characteristic of a Japanese home is the genkan, or entryway. It includes a small area, at the same level as the outside, where arriving people remove their shoes. As they take off their shoes, people step up onto a raised floor. They point the tips of their shoes to the outside. The rest of the residence is at the raised level of this floor. Adjacent to the lower floor is a shelf or cabinet called a getabako in which people will place their shoes. Slippers for indoor use are usually placed there. The custom of removing one’s shoes before entering the house is believed to go back over one thousand years to the pre-historical era of elevated-floor structures. It has continued to the present, even after the westernization of the Japanese home


washiki Japanese housing typically has multiple rooms for what in Western housing is the bathroom. Separate rooms for the Japanese toilet, sink, and ofuro (bathing room) are common. In Japanese culture, there is a tendency to separate areas into clean and unclean, and the contact between these areas is minimized. For example, the To minimize contact between the unclean toilet floor inside of the house is considered a clean and the clean floor in the rest of the house, many private homes and also some public toilets have toilet area, whereas the outside of the house is considered unclean. To keep the two areas slippers in front of the toilet door that should be used when in separated, shoes are taken off before entering the toilet and removed right after leaving. the house so that the unclean shoes do not touch the clean area inside of the house. Historically, toilets were located outside of the house, and shoes were worn for a trip to the toilet. Nowadays, the toilet is almost always inside the home, but the toilet is still considered an unclean area. To minimize contact between the unclean toilet floor and the clean floor in the rest of the house, many private homes and also some public toilets have toilet slippers in front of the toilet door that should be used when in the toilet and removed right after leaving the toilet. This also indicates if the toilet is in use. The traditional Japanese-style washiki toilet is a squat toilet. One advantage of squat toilets is that they are very easy to clean. They are also cheaper to make, they consume less water per flush than Western toilets, and, due to the lack of direct contact with the seat, some people claim that they are more hygienic. However, after World War II, modern Western-type flush toilets became common.

futon A futon is traditional Japanese bedding consisting of padded mattresses. It is stuffed with cotton, wool, or synthetic batting. Futons are often on tatami flooring, they are pliable enough to be folded and stored away in a closet during the day to allow the tatami to breathe and to allow for flexibility in the use of the room. Futons must be aired in sunlight regularly, especially if not put away during the day. The futon mattress has an average thickness of 10 cm, 90 to 100 cm wide and 195 to 210 cm long.


o furo Ofuro is a Japanese bath, specifically it is a type of bath which originated as a short, steep-sided wooden bathtub. A furo differs from a conventional Western bathtub by being of a deeper construction, typically in the region of 60 cm. Traditional pot shaped cast iron furo were heated by a wood-burning stove builtin below them. For the Japanese, it was important to be completely clean before entering the bath: people should lightly showering before. Furo is part of the Japanese ritual bathing, not meant for washing but rather for relaxing and warming oneself. Generally Japanese bathrooms are small by Western standards, so the bathroom is set up much like a walk-in shower area but containing the furo. The water is hot, usually approximately 38 to 42 Celsius.

tatami Tatami mats are rice straw floor mats often used to cover the floor in Japan’s interiors. Contemporary tatamis are sometimes composed of compressed wood chip boards or polystyrene foam. With a covering of woven soft rush straw, tatami are made in standard sizes, one with the length exactly The word tatami is derived from the verb tatamu, twice the width, an aspect ratio of 2:1 and meaning to fold or pile. This indicates that the early another that is a half that size. Usually, on tatami were thin and could be folded up when not used. the long sides, they have edging of brocade or plain cloth. The tatami is the basis of traditional Japanese architecture, regulating a building’s size and dimensions. They originated in ancient Japan when straw was laid on bare earth as a softener and 16

warmer. Later, this idea developed into moveable mats that could be laid anywhere in the house to sit or sleep on before becoming a permanent floor covering in the fifteenth century. Tatami are suitable for the Japanese climate because they let air circulate around the floor. Tatami is an organic, living material, therefor it has various characteristics such as a calming effect, insulation and air purification that enrich Japanese living and results also a very favorable climate impact: cooling in the summer and heating in the winter. As it is difficult to clean it, and aslo very vulnerable, tatamis should be not approached by slippers or shoes. Tatami mats are extremely weak to humidity. If you leave a Tatami mat in a humid environment, it’ll start sprouting mold. To avoid this, daily cleaning can be done by vacuums with a specialized Tatami mode. The average Tatami mat life span is around 5 to 6 years.


shoji, fusuma and ranma A large portion of Japanese interior walls are often made of shōji screens that can be pushed open to join two rooms together, and then close them allowing more privacy. The shōji screens are made of paper attached to thin wooden frames that roll away on a track when they are pushed. Another important feature of the shōji screen, besides privacy and seclusion, is that they allow light through. Paper translucent walls allow light to be diffused through the space and create light shadows and patterns. Another way to connect rooms in Japan’s interiors is through sliding panels made of wood and paper, like the shōji screens, or cloth. These panels are called fusuma and are used as an entire wall. They are traditionally hand painted. Ranma are panels found above shoji or fusuma that are designed to let light into rooms. They are often ornate wooden carvings or shoji screens.

engawa In Japanese architecture, an engawa is a typically wooden strip of flooring at one side of the house, immediately before windows and storm shutters inside traditional Japanese rooms, facing a yard or a garden and serving as a passageway and sitting space. 18

As the engawa is in between the garden and the interior, it’s called as a “third place”, which indicates continuity, and functions as a transition zone between two very different spaces - the inside and the outside. According to the Buddhist philosophy, this kind of third place always exists between two very different things which is neither one or nor the other, or both ways at once. The engawa has sliding walls on both sides, which let us to transform it and connect it to the interior, to the exterior or to both, as we like it.



washitsu Washitsu are traditional Japanese rooms that feature tatami flooring and shoji. In the past, almost all Japanese rooms were washitsu. Nowadays, many Japanese houses have only one washitsu, which is sometimes used for entertaining guests, and most rooms are Western-style. The size of a washitsu is measured by the number of tatami mats, typical sizes the tables with short legs is called chabudai, that are are six or eight tatami mats in a private home. used while sitting on the floor. The original chabudai ranged in height from 15 cm to a maximum of 30 cm

The main furniture in a washitsu include a low table at which a family may eat dinner or entertain guests, while sitting on zabuton (thin pillows which are equivalent of a chair), ans kotatsu, which was particularly important as most Japanese homes do not have central heating.

byobu Byobu are folding screens, made from several joined panels, bearing decorative painting and calligraphy, used to separate interiors and enclose private spaces, among other uses often decorated with art. They were one of the Japan’s first successful exports to Europe when the country open to the world in the 1860s. Byobu were historically considered essential furniture because Japanese homes weren’t designed for privacy.


kotatsu A kotatsu is a low, wooden table (or plastic nowadays) covered by a futon, or heavy blanket, upon which a table top sits. Underneath is a heat source, formerly it was a charcoal brazier but now an IR light electric heater is built in the table itself. Kotatsu is an essential toll for family togetherness, the relatives are gathered around the the table in the evenings to talk, eat dinner or watch tv together. A person sits on the floor or on zabuton cushions with their legs under the table and the blanket draped over the lower body. The kotatsu was designed when people most commonly wore traditional Japanese style clothes, where the heat would enter through the bottom of the robes and rise to exit around the neck, thus heating the entire body. kotatsus in the world. Most Japanese housing is not insulated to the A similar heated table, korsi, is used in Iran. also a same degree as a western domicile and do not very similar item called sandali has been used widely have central heating, thus relying primarily in Tajikistan and Afghanistan. They are used even today in many on space heating. Heating is expensive traditional houses, as a warm family eating place and to spend because of the lack of insulation and the time together. In Spain and Portugal, there is a similar item called draftiness of housing. A kotatsu is a relatively a mesa camilla. It is a small round table with a brasero heater inexpensive way to stay warm in the winter, placed underneath. as the futons trap the warm air. Families may choose to concentrate their activity in this one area of the house in order to save on energy costs. In the summer, the blanket may be removed, and the kotatsu used as a normal table.



sun-dried brick

kawara roof tile

bamboo sticks



red granite


rice paper



Japanese address system in japan there are no street names, but 3 numbers to find a building. for western people this makes very difficult to find an address on a map.

Imagine you’re standing in Bologna and a Japanese man asks you, “What’s the name of this block?” . Thinking you’ve misunderstood the question, you say: “This is Via San Vitale. This is between Via San Vitale and Via Guido Reni.” But the man asks you again, “No. Not the streets. This block.” Blocks don’t have names, streets have names! Blocks are just the chunks of land in-between streets. He seems disappointed. Now imagine you’re standing in Tokyo. You ask someone: “What’s the name of this street?” “Uh. This is block 5. That is block 8.” Thinking she’s misunderstood the question, but in Japan, streets don’t have names, blocks have numbers. Streets are just the empty space in-between blocks. The Japanese addressing system is based on areas, subdivided from big to small. Mailing addresses in Japan, after naming the province and city, are a series of three numbers: district number, then the blocks are numbered and, at the lowest level, the building has a number. The buildings within a block are either numbered in the order that they were built, so they jump all around, or numbered in clockwise order around the block. That’s how the building is found.


JAPANESE WOODWORKS Japanese architecture has traditionally been typified by wooden structures, elevated slightly off the ground, with tiled or thatched roofs. In most discussions of traditional Japanese architecture, one of the first questions raised is why wood has been the primary building material, contrasting to sharply with the Western tradition, whose ancient monuments were almost always of stone and brick, and even with Chinese and Korean architecture, where masonry figures almost as prominently as wood. Wood and bamboo have existed in abundance from primeval times, while accessible and appropriate building stone was negligible. Seismic disturbances are also frequent. Hence, the reasoning follows, practical limitations dictated an exclusively wooden architecture. We need not accept this explanation at face value. After all, Japan is a mountainous country with an abudance of rock, and the stone walks of medieval gardens and the masonry of reatining castle walls reveals a highly refined aesthetic sensitivity and technical sophistication. Why were these techniques not utilized int he construction of entire buildings? Firstly, it may be that the choice of materials was influenced by the manner in which mainland technology was received in Japan. Altought a large amount of great wooden shrine buildings proceeded the introduction of Buddhist temple construction in the 6th century, the new woodworking tools and techniques represented a great leap forward in technological complexity, sophistication, versatility and durability. Buddhist Japanese building was chiefly made in wood. An important point to keep


in mind, is that this technology was quickly canonized as an emblematic act of the new political regime, which sponsored its development and the education of new generation of craftsmen. While there must have been an opportunity to advance masonry or stone techniques as well, both the bureaucratic and educational system supported wooden carpentery in this early stage of Buddhist architecture. An other factor may have been the susceptibility of masonry to earthquake damage, though this would seem to be offset by its increased resistance to fire.

On the other hand, part of the value system symbolized by Shinto beliefs stresses love of and respect for wood as a living organism. A form of animism, Shinto ascribes consciousness and personality to natural forces such as wind, rain, sun, moon and non-human living things. Certain mountains are held sacred, as are parts of forests and even particular trees: without the permission and assistance of gods (or kami ghosts), rice will not grow, women will not conceive and building will not stand. These beliefs are celebrated to this day in the form of Shinto ceremonies for planting, marriage, and construction. A tree, like other natural phenomena is believd to possess a spirit, so the carpenter must put a tree to uses that assure its continued existence, preferably as a thing of beauty to be treasured for centuries. “The characteristics of wood, its spirit for a traditional japanese building, one should use wood emerge from the characteristics of the ground in the same north-south-east-west orientation like it in which it grows. In order to fully grasp the grew originally, because when a tree is integrated into idiosyncraises of the wood that will be used, a a building it has to response to the same forces, like sunlight, carpenter should had to examine it in realtion wind, rain, etc. to its environment in the mountainside. Only then will he be able to predict how it will change int he future. Trees are individuals, but they grow in communities, and both aspects affect their personalities.� says Nishioka (1908-1995), a highly respected Japanese temple and shrine carpenter. 27

The Japanese joinery techniques were used in every wooden structure, from temples to houses. it has a unique interlocking systems in which nature meets geometry and connects wood through complex and self-sustaining joints, in which no steel hardware such as nails or bolts were utilized at all, only wooden pegs.

JAPANESE WOODEN JOINERY Japanese carpenters are famous for their elaborate joining techniques that put their wooden constructions among the most durable in the world. Behind the beauty lies the skill and the knowledge of an artisan. The harmony of Traditional japanese carpenters don’t see the wood they use as dead trees, but as trees given a second the creation conceals the complexity of the life, a life that is visible through the expansion and assemblage. Simple elements, such as bearing contraction of the wood, even after being turned into furniture. blocks, all play role int he final result. There are many ways to join members together. Beams can be tied with ropes, carved and assembled or connected with nails, screws and glue. When these structures were erected, joining was an extremely elaborate technique. Master jointers were dedicated craftsmen responsible for spicing and connecting elements of a building. Many factors had to be considered. the connections had to be strong enough to transfer forces such as bending, torsion, compression and shear, yet appearance was an important factor. A variety of techniques sometimes very simple, sometimes elaborate were developed. The intricacy of the the internal structure of the joint is hidden by the apparent simplicity of its appearance. Various shapes connect into each other with ease. This wisdom is the result of years of patient work. Japanese carpentry isn’t about using nature to work for you when making products, but instead working with nature to accomplish your goal. This is seen in simple ways, such as keeping the natural curves of the tree for aesthetic purposes, to more complicated and philosophical ways, such as using the wood from the bottom of trees for the bottom of structures to keep the order of nature and also to prevent warping, which could occur because “trees don’t grow upside down.” The process all begins with the tree. First the tree is cut into slabs and dried for 10-20 years, then the craftsman chooses the wood and sees what he can create with it. Once the project is set, instead of inflicting the wood with nails and screws, they put pieces together with joints carved directly into the wood that must fit perfectly together, like a 3D jigsaw puzzle.


This all-natural style allows for a strong structure due to the pieces expanding and contracting together, sturdiness proven by the resistance to the destruction of even earthquakes. Inevitably, wood gets worn and weathered, but that adds to the charm of the piece in wabi-sabi appreciation of imperfection, which inspires the viewer to contemplate the passage of time Chidori is a hand-crafted Japanese joint design which and the imperfect nature of life has been inspired by and developed from a traditional . children’s toy. The working joint locks into position Japanese carpenters (or daiku) are considered without fixings, and has since been adopted for furniture and members of a class of workes. When a building facades. 1 unit of Chidori Furniture consists of 12 timber carpenter does a poor job, for instance, it sticks with different junction details. Each modular unit can reflects bot hon the client and ont he master, be connected to from all 6 sides making numerous combinations in most cases, he is not allowed to redo the possible. work, for that would entail waste. Everyone must live with the result. According to the craftman’s ethical code, this rule is applied to every task in life. Carpenters are trained to do any job with care and precision.


ORIGAMI Origami is the art of paper folding, the word came from the Japanese expressions, ori meaning folding, and kami meaning paper. The goal is to transform a flat sheet square of paper into something with a 3D spatial extent through folding and sculpting techniques. Modern origami practitioners generally discourage the use of cuts, glue, or markings on the paper. Origami folders often use the Japanese word kirigami to refer to designs which use cuts. Origami principles are now used in a wide variety of applications, from the design of satellites, to heart stents, to self-assembling robots, and much more. Since the 1960s, and especially in the last few years, the overlap between origami, mathematics, engineering and other disciplines has grown. The mathematical processes that underly origami are quite complex, and the same analytical techniques and computer models that allow one to fold a piece of paper into an inordinate variety of shapes can be used to solve a wide array of vexing design problems. It is very useful to understand the act of folding for easy-toassemble homes in architecture, but used also for medical technology, mirrors and solar panels in space, nano-devices or to design air-bags for cars,








On the next pages we are going to introduce some of the Japanese architects who played a significant role in influencing the development of the contemporary Japanese architecture with a unique approaches towards architectural problems, which are significantly differentiated it from architecture in the rest of the world. All of them is somehow connected to the traditional architecture: the philosophy of the transitional and the in-between spaces, the respect of the nature, the contemporary usage of traditional solutions, such as the wooden carpentery, the sustainibility or the light structures are all show a strong continuity between the traditional and the contemporary architecture.. 1.






contemporary japanese architects 1. Kenzo tange 2. Kengo Kuma 3. sou fujimoto 4. Shigeru Ban 5. Toyo Ito 6. katsuya fukushima


METABOLISM To understand the transition between traditional and contemporary Japanese architecture, we can not avoid talking about the Metabolism. It was a post-war Japanese architectural movement that fused ideas about architectural megastructures with those of organic biological growth. The Metabolists explored strategies for urban development. Like much of the design world in the post World War II climate, metabolists sought to design cities that on a large scale that were flexible and transformable. During the preparation for the 1960 Tōkyō World Design Conference a group of young architects and designers, including Kiyonori Kikutake, Kisho Kurokawa and Fumihiko Maki prepared the publication of the Metabolism manifesto. They were influenced by a wide variety of sources including Marxist theories and biological processes. The group searched for architectural solutions to Japan’s phenomenal urban expansion brought about by its economic growth and how this could be


reconciled with its shortage of usable land. They felt a natural desire to produce urban designs based upon a new prototype of design, one that could give a more human connection to super-scale cities. He considered the idea of “major” and “minor” city structure and how this could grow in cycles like the trunk and leaves of a tree.

radical re-building

The Ise Grand Shrine is a Shinto shrine, located in the city of Ise. The architectural style of the Ise shrine is characterized by extreme simplicity and antiquity: its basic principles date back to the Kofun period (250-538). The shrine buildings use a special variant of this style, which may not be used in the construction of any other shrine. The old shrines are dismantled and new ones built on an adjacent site to exacting specifications every 20 years at exorbitant expense, so that the buildings will be forever new and forever ancient and original. The present buildings, dating from 2013, are the 62nd iteration to date and are scheduled for rebuilding in 2033.

Metabolism developed during the post war period in a Japan that questioned its cultural identity. Initially the group had chosen the name Burnt Ash School to reflect the ruined state of firebombed Japanese cities and the opportunity they presented for radical re-building. Ideas of nuclear physics and biological growth were linked with Buddhist concepts of regeneration. Although the Metabolist movement rejected visual references from the past, they embraced concepts of prefabrication and renewal from traditional Japanese architecture, especially the twenty-year cycle of the rebuilding of the Ise Shrine. They were thinking in megastructures. It was originated by the idea from vernacular forms of village architecture that were projected into vast structures with the aid of modern technology. Megastructures were definied as modular units (with a short life span) that attached to structural framework (with a longer life span). Kurokawa’s Nagakin Capsule Tower in Tokyio was a perfect examble of this idea.


Proposals for New urbanism In 1960 the group’s manifesto Metabolism: The Proposals for New Urbanism opened with the following statement: “Metabolism is the name of the group, in which each member proposes further designs of our coming world through his concrete designs and illustrations. We regard human society as a vital process - a continuous development from atom to nebula. The reason why we use such a biological word, metabolism, is that we believe design and technology should be a denotation of human society. We are not going to accept metabolism as a natural process, but try to encourage active metabolic development of our society through our proposals”

the end of the movement Japan was selected as the site for the 1970 World Exposition. Originally they wanted to host a World Exposition in 1940, but it was cancelled with the escalation of the war. The one million people who had bought tickets for 1940 were allowed to use them in 1970 ! Expo70 has been described has the apotheosis of the Metabolist movement. But even before Japan’s period of rapid economic growth ended with the world energy crisis, critics were calling the Expo a dystopia that was removed from reality. The energy crisis demonstrated Japan’s reliance both on imported oil and led to a re-evaluation of design and planning with architects moving away from utopian projects towards smaller urban interventions. Altought there are some metabolist examples that were actually bulit and constructed, their ideas remained largely theoretical.

the effect of metabolism When talking about Metabolism and its importance we would highlight the development of a unique architectural and urban design theoretical system, which is built on the foundations of general systems theory, and also prepared the “living systems” theory of introduction into the world of architecture. It is also inevitable to mention the ambition in architecture to represent an unprecedented scale, and it deals with the possible problems of a growing population with a limited amount of building area, which are getting more and more important questions today. 40

the nagakin capsule tower The icon of Metabolism, Kurokawa’s Nakagin Capsule Tower was erected in the Ginza district of Tōkyō in 1972 and completed in just 30 days. Prefabricated in Shiga Prefecture in a factory that normally built shipping containers, it is constructed of 140 capsules plugged into two cores that are 11 and 13 stories in height. The capsules contained the latest gadgets of the day and were built to house small offices and sleeping Kawazoe used the Japanese word shinchintaisha as rooms for Tōkyō salarymen. being symbolic of the essential exchange of materials The capsules are constructed of light steel and energy between organisms and the exterior world, welded trusses covered with steel sheeting literally metabolism in a biological sense. The Japanese meaning mounted onto the reinforced concrete cores. of the word has a feeling of replacement of the old with the new The capsules are 2.5 meters wide and four and the group further interpreted this to be equivalent to the metres long with a 1.3 metre diameter window continuous renewal and organic growth of the city. at one end. The units originally contained a bed, storage cabinets, a bathroom, a colour television set, clock, refrigerator and air conditioner, although optional extras such as a stereo were available. Although the capsules were designed with mass production in mind there was never a demand for them. Since 1996 the tower has been listed as an architectural heritage by DoCoMoMo. However, in 2007 the residents voted to tear the tower down and build a new 14-storey tower. The tower still stands today and has approximately 15 people living inside. Also with the pods that are still safe to live in and not falling apart inside, has become a hotel once again.


CONTEMPORARY EXAMPLES Contemporary Japanese architecture is related to the traditional one in many different layers. Both in traditional technical and detail solutions and in the abstract philosophycal approaches. This might be a key question in the Japanese “The role of tradition is that of a catalyst, which identity nowadays. The Second World War furthers a chemical reaction, but is no longer left the Japanese in a state of confusion and detectable in the end result. Tradition can participate anxiety. Japanese faith in their nation’s divine in a creation, but it can no longer be creative itself.” superiority and invincibility was seriously /Kenzo Tange undermined as well as their confidence in their political leaders. During the post-war years Japan, which fell strongly under the influence of western countries, began to reassert its identity. The uniformity of modern architecture in Japan, plus the growth of the economy in a country which was re-discovering its identity after a period of western domination, encouraged Japanese architects to take a look at their nation more seriously. Since the early decades of the 20th century, there have been intellectual debates on the use of historical traditions. When talking about modern architecture in Japan, we must mention Kenzō Tange (1913–2005). He was one of the most significant architects of the 20th century, combining traditional Japanese styles with modernism. He concentrated on the traditional rhythms and textures, and was certainly a pioneer in studying the principles of Japanese traditional architecture, using a pillar and beam system reminiscent of ancient imperial palaces..


japanese woodworks in contemporary architecture Katsuya Fukushima, a contemporary Japanese architect said about his Archery Hall “We have salvaged the purity of traditional Japanese timber composition, simply made up of horizontals and verticals, which has been somewhat disregarded ever since the advent of modernism in Japan. We derived at timber materials that are not commonly associated with structural or architectural usage. Small timber sections, normally reserved for furniture making, were chosen for the archery hall.� Located on the campus of Tokyo’s Kogakuin University, the structure is dedicated to sporting activities and called for columnfree spaces built from low-cost materials The structure is constructed employing a simple, lo-tech method of bolt-and-nut assembly, but required meticulous accuracy to ensure that each grid is made up of only perpendicular elements. archery hall


Kengo Kuma (1954 - ) is a Japanese architect whose stated goal is to recover the tradition of Japanese buildings and to reinterpret these traditions for the 21st century. Although remaining in continuity with Japanese traditions with the clarity of structural solutions, implied tectonics, and importance of light and transparency, Kengo Kuma does not restrain himself to the banal and superficial use of ‘light’ materials. Instead, he goes much deeper, extending to the mechanisms of composition to expand the possibilities of materiality. Kuma attempts You could say that my aim is ‘to recover the place’. to attain a sense of spatial immateriality as a The place is a result of nature and time; this is the most consequence of the ‘particulate nature’ of the important aspect. I think my architecture is some kind of frame of nature. With it, we can experience nature more deeply light and establishing a relationship between and more intimately. Transparency is a characteristic of Japanese a space and the natural round around it.

architecture; I try to use light and natural materials to get a new kind of transparency.” /Kengo kuma

In many of Kengo Kuma’s projects, attention is focused on the connection spaces; on the segments between inside and outside, one room to the next. The choice of materials stems not so much from an intention to guide the design of the forms, but to show the technical advances that have made possible new uses. For example Kengo’s Prostho Museum Research Center is surrounded by a parametric decorative system formed of cypress wood elements generating regular prismatic combinations created with interlocking joints was inspired by a traditional Japanese toy, the chidori.

prostho museum research center


the paper architecture and the use of light materials Shigeru Ban (1957- ) is a Japanese architect, known for his innovative work with paper, particularly recycled cardboard tubes used to quickly and efficiently house disaster victims. Ban uses many themes and methods found in traditional Japanese architecture (such as shĹ?ji) and the idea of a “universal floorâ€? to allow continuity between all rooms in a house. With his Western education and influences, Ban has become one of the forerunning Japanese architects who embrace the combination of Western and Eastern building forms and methods. Ban is most famous now for his innovative work with paper and cardboard tubing as a material for building construction. He was the first architect in Japan to construct a building primarily out of paper with his paper house. Ban is attracted to using paper because it is low cost, recyclable, low-tech and replaceable. boisbuchet paper pavilion


paper partition system 4

The third aspect of Ban’s influences is his humanitarianism and his attraction to ecological architecture. Ban’s work with paper and other materials is heavily based on its sustainability and because it produces very little waste. As after the earthquake in japan, many families found a result of this, Ban’s DIY refugee shelters themselves living on the floor of shelters and (used in Japan after the Kobe earthquake, gymnasiums, sharing one space with strangers in the in Turkey, Rwanda and around the world) same situation. although this was tolerable for a few days, their are very popular and effective for low-cost lack of privacy started becoming an issue after weeks of living in this way. disaster relief-housing.

the modular system allows for fast and easy assembly and disassembly and the require no specific skills to be put together. the structure can be made different dimensions for different sized families depending on where the cloth is hung.

The evacuees of the great Japan Earthquake (2011, April) and Tsunami made the survivors take shelter in evacuation facilities such as gymnasiums. To give them privacy during these hard times, Ban designed the Paper Partition System 4. Made of two sizes of cardboard tubing, plywood, ropes and white curtains, the modular system allows for fast and easy assembly and disassembly. The structure can be made different dimensions for different sized families depending on where the cloth is hung. It is a cost effective solution to harness materials that are easily available and recyclable.


in-between spaces The existence of the “third place” has an extremely important role in Japanese architecture, both the traditional and the contemporary. A good example is Sou Fujimoto (1971- ), Japanese architect, who is noted for delicate light structures and permeable enclosures. When talking about his architecture, first “I like to find something in between. Not only nature we must mention his idea of the fuzzy zone and architecture but also inside and outside. Every kind that exists between fixed states. Second of definition has an in-between space. Especially if the is his interest in the contrast and collision definitions are two opposites, then the in-between space is more of opposites: natural/artificial, inside/ rich.” /Sou fujimoto outside, simplicity/complexity, small/large. Fujimoto gives his recently completed Serpentine Gallery Pavilion in London as an example of his philosophy, in which he used a series of geometric lattices to create a cloud-like structure. “In various meanings it is in between things,” he says of the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion

project. “It’s made by a grid, but the shape is very soft and complex. The experience is half nature and half super-artificial.” The pavilion is a symphony of opposites: simple grids of sticks achieve great formal complexity; inside and outside are indistinguishable from each other; the traditional tectonics of buildings (walls, roofs, stairs) are playfully dissolved. The Final Wooden House in Japan is an other interesting project, in which chunky timber beams form the walls, floors and roof of the house, as well as the furniture and stairs inside. “It’s a beautiful integration of the architectural elements 48

in various different levels,” says Fujimoto. “The wooden blocks could be the floor or the furniture or the walls, so in that house every definition is melding together.” The functions and the usage of this project is not defined by the architect, but it depends on how the people use it and how they fill the given space. We can also witness a sensitive, non-defined connection with the nature around it, which gets visible through the empty pieces in between the timber beams. He is using the juxtaposition of natural and artificial orders. Deterministic room types are dissolved in favour of platforms that support shifting regions of activities. His architecture can be connected to the idea of the engawa, the transitional third space. This examples show us a very abstract but strong connection with the traditional architecture. final wooden house


the importance of nature One of the characteristics of Japanese culture is often said to be the close harmonious relationship between man and nature. The Japanese often attempt to bring nature into the proximity of their daily lives by designing patterns in kimono or construct gardens even in confines spaces, cultivating a dwarfed pine tree - the bonsai. The true roots of Jananese architecture lie int he Japanese relationship to Nature. This attitude stood in clear contrast to the belief, that architecture should affirm man’s power over his natural environment. A lot of contemporary examples show as a similar attitude while handling nature with architecture. The non-defined boundaries are continously connecting the nature nad the interior of a house. In Sou Fujimoto’s N House project we can Animism is the worldview that all things have a spirit see, he created a transitional space, which is or soul, such as animals, plants, rivers, mountains, partly covered, and he put plants here, which stars, the sun possess a spiritual essence. these spirits makes this in-between space even more a are supposed to have an effect on human beings. These Animistic natural environment. beliefs gradually developed into Shintoism, the largest religion in japana, and even today, those beliefs still reflect the close Light also has a special role in Japanese architecture by reconnecting us with the relationship of the Japanese to all of nature. nature - light penetrates through openings making continuity between outside and inside. Light stuctures, patterns also enforces this attitude. In residential houses we can find big, openable or silding galss surfaces to make the inside directly connected to the outside world. house in kamisa

house n


Sou Fujimoto made an architecture with an outdoor space that feels like the indoors and an indoor space that feels like the outdoors. In a nested structure, the inside is invariably the outside, and vice versa. his intention wastomakeanarchitecturethatisnotaboutspacenoraboutform,butsimply about expressing the riches of what are in-between houses and streets. Sou fujimoto, house n, oita, japan, 2007

“The natural world is extremely complicated and variable, and its systems are fluid – it is built on a fluid world. In contrast to this, architecture has always tried to establish a more stable system. To be very simplistic, the system of the grid was established in the 20th century. This system became popular, as it allowed a huge amount of architecture to be built in a short period of time. However, it also made the world’s cities homogenous, it made even the people living and working homogenous. In response to that, over the last ten years, by modifying the grid slightly I have been tried to find a way of creating relationships that bring buildings closer to their surroundings and to their natural environment.” says Toyo Ito, a Japanese architect known for creating conceptual architecture, in which he seeks to simultaneously express the physical and virtual worlds. In 2013, Ito was awarded the Pritzker Prize, one of architecture’s most prestigious prizes. The current architecture of Toyo Ito seeks to find new spatial conditions that manifest the philosophy of borderless beings. sendai mediatheque

Many of the forms he uses in his buildings are taken from the natural world: “I have always wanted to reduce the gap between architecture and nature, I don’t want people to live removed from nature. I want people to live and work amongst nature as much as possible.” he says. Three of Ito’s most high-profile buildings (Sendai Mediatheque, Mikimoto Ginza and Tod’s Omotesando) each try to recreate the experience of being in a forest. He could affect how light entered. Light enters the building as if it is falling through trees. Tod’s Omotesando building has a much more obvious tree-like structure. He decided to surround the space completely with a tree-like structure to create the feeling of being in nature. 52

mikimoto ginza

tod’s omotesando


Mamiya Shinichi Design Studio

Rows of wooden pillars support various split-level floors to create a forest-like feel inside the Nagoya office of Japanese architecture firm Mamiya Shinichi Design Studio (+ slideshow). Externally the building has a simple rectilinear form, but inside it contains a series of platforms arranged at different heights. These are all supported by wooden columns reminiscent of trees. According to the architects, the aim was to “create the image of a fresh space that will play a key role in our company’s future development, encouraging rich communication between the staff and exploring the possibilities of a wooden structure”. Gaps between the pillars have been filled with shelves that, when stacked with books and magazines, help to create more intimate spaces at all levels. The entirely open ground floor is interrupted only by the 30 timber columns – no load-bearing walls were required. 54

Rows of wooden pillars support various split-level floors to create a forest-like feel inside the Nagoya office. inside it contains a series of platforms arranged at different heights. Shinichi Mamiya, Mamiya Shinichi Design Studio, Nagoya, 2015

a multi-purpose room, The living space doesn’t have many functional limitations, aside from the wet area. The daily activity is formed between the tatami hallway and rooms on both sides, and remains within an indistinct living area, which puts no limits on functionality. tokmoto architecture, house in Niigata, Japan, 2014

spacial flexibilty The House in Niigata, as a conetmporary example of spacial flexibility, consists of a ground floor based on a concrete piloti and a second floor based on a grid composition plan. The ground floor is an open space, which, while the second floor makes up the main living space. At the ground level, open space is secured to the utmost. Within the site, an awareness of being connected to or isolated from the city area sparks between the residents and the city environment. The second floor consists of twelve cells, each the size of four and a half tatami mats. The four central cells represent free space, forming a tatamilaid hallway. This multi-purpose room allows for various living landscapes. Aside from everyday family life, it serves as a place for enjoying the extraordinary moments, such as dinner or parties, various actions of the family can be spontaneously realized. Opening and closing the fittings according to function and purpose forms the size of the space, while creating various living areas came from the idea from the traditional Japanese architecture, such as the usage of the shoji and fusuma. From a small bedroom or a middle-sized setting to a large multipurpose space, wooden fittings play a great role in creating a living space. Tokmoto Architecture Room had chosen traditional Japanese materials and detail solutions for this project. Pillars, ridge beams and frames, are all made of domestic Japanese cedar, also using the knowledge of Japanese carpenetery for the wooden joints. The flooring is made of tatamis. On the level of furnitures, it containes both contemporary and traditional-style ones. house in niigata


Behind a simple concrete exterior, this house by Japanese architect Tsubasa Iwahashi contains a complex arrangement of rooms connected by three different kinds of staircase. the house was designed to create a series of separate spaces that are visually connected to one another. The aim is for the resident family to feel connected to one another when occupying different rooms. “The people are connected to each other, but the house has a moderate sense of distance,” he said. “They can spend time together or alone.” Tsubasa Iwahashi Architects, Hyogo house, hyogo, Japan, 2015



The family’s living, dining and kitchen areas are are located in one openplan space on the ground floor. Glass doors allow residents to open the room out to a wooden terrace platform. On the terrace, the conversation with the neighbours begins, and they will build a relationship with the town. Gradually, the house becomes part of the scenery of the town. Tsubasa Iwahashi Architects, Hyogo house, hyogo, Japan, 2015



house in hatogaya

the aesthetics of the unfinished Japanese architect Jo Nagasaka stripped away the walls of this inherited traditional house in Hatogaya, revealing an arrangement of timber columns that give the residence an unfinished appearance. Nagasaka was asked to refurbish the two-storey house in the city’s Kawaguchi district. The house was originally subdivided into a tight warren of rooms to fit the maximum number of private spaces within the layout. “It was built during the time of social and population growth when nobody imagined current social issues such as vacancy resulting from population decline would arise,� said Nagasaka. 62

To create a more contemporary living space, partition walls were knocked through and the supporting framework left exposed. The traditional distinctions between private spaces such as bedrooms and living rooms were removed to create an open-plan arrangement on the ground floor, where the master bedroom is open to the kitchen and this act created a sense og integrity. There are barely any partitions between the rooms of the family house, which was designed by architect Yamazaki Kentaro as an open container that “changes as you design and live in it” House in Kashiwa, also known as the Unfinished House, provides a flexible residence for a growing family. The house’s layout is shaped by four two-storey boxes, surrounding a generous double-height atrium that functions as the family’s living and dining room. While the lower levels of the boxes accommodate typical rooms, the upper levels can be used for different activities. The second layer has intentionally been left blank so the areas can create space suitable for their increasing hobbies, or wardrobes or a children’s room. The arrangement of the boxes was determined by the views of the surroundings.Three separate staircases lead up to the firstfloor rooms and are each made from white powder-coated steel. The kitchen is located inside one of the boxes and forms the house’s entrance. This space offers a view across most of the interior, ensuring parents can keep an eye on their children. A “container” that changes as you design and live in it, and design it, on top of the challenge of living in such a house, must continue to give you the pleasure of living there. house in kashiwa / the unfished house



Without defining or limiting the future possibilities of this family, Kentaro designed a house that allows for flexibility within their daily lives, such as hobbies and family. The house’s layout is shaped by four two-storey boxes. Each space meets the minimum size required for the designated function, such as the kitchen and bathroom. They act as not rooms but function spaces and the central hub is an open ceiling space where the four boxes, each with a function contributing to their daily lives are gathered around this central space. Yamazaki Kentaro, The unfinished house, kashiwa , 2014


The wooden framework of this Japanese house by Akasaka Shinichiro Atelier will allow the owners to adapt the lower floor into a photography studio or children’s room, depending on the client’s lifestyle choices. Architect Shinichiro Akasaka designed a house, which comprises three timber-clad blocks, is positioned on the side of Mount Moiwa – a forested mountain overlooking Hokkadio Prefecture’s capital city. Wooden columns and beams create the framework for future rooms. It was also a project with a lot of uncertain factors in the first stage, such as child’s future presence. “We aimed to build a house like a barn which can become their own home in the future,” explained the architect. “The client will continue the renovation in their own way according to the changes in their lifestyle.” The primary living space is set on the first floor of the house, freeing up the ground floor to be more flexible in use. The elevated lounge and kitchen adjoin a terrace with views over the city and Ishikari Bay. The spaces between the chunky wooden columns and beams match the standard sizes of timber boards, so they can easily be divided up into rooms. We can also witness the use of traditional wooden joints, which may remind us of the chidori toys. the barn house


Wooden columns and beams create the framework for future rooms. The client will continue the renovation in their own way according to the changes in their lifestyle. Shinichiro Akasaka, The barn house, monte moiwa , 2016




Csa japanese book0531 12  
Csa japanese book0531 12