How Modern Japanese Architecture Influences from Historic Style

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Table of contents

  1. Garden and Architecture’s Combination Influence
  2. House Design Influence from Weather
  3. Structural Influence from Disaster
  4. Materials Influences
  5. Space Influence from Japanese Traditional Houses
  6. Conclusion

Japan has a lot to offer to those with an interest in architecture. Architectural styles in Japan have developed throughout the hundreds of years, intensely impacted by topography, atmosphere, the crude materials accessible, and even the course of natural disasters. Japanese architecture, in the long run, came to consolidate components from neighboring Asian societies just as Western impacts.

Historically, the Meiji Restoration (1868-1912) marked an inflection point when the archipelago was confronted with an alternate idea of ‘building’, one which was already a well-established discipline in the Western world under the notion of ‘architecture’. Initially introducing styles alien to a culture based on wooden structures, the hybridization between the existing knowledge and newly imposed values would gradually reinforce Japan’s own architectural identity.

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As we all know, the Pulitzer Prize for Architecture recognizes the talents, insights and awards of architects for their outstanding contributions to the human and artificial environment through architectural art Bell Award. So far, there are seven Japanese architects have won this award. The number of winners is second in the world. So why are there so many world-class architects and award-winning architects in Japan? What is the secret of Japan becoming a building power? Chinese civilization has a profound influence on Japan, whether it is writing, philosophical thinking, aesthetics, etc. Of course, architecture is no exception. Since ancient Japanese architecture possesses all the characteristics of Chinese architecture, it can be said that it belongs to the Chinese architectural system. However, ancient Japanese architecture still has distinct national characteristics, especially their aesthetic characteristics. In addition to the early shrines, the ancient Japanese capital city pattern, large temples and palaces, etc., are more abiding by the Chinese system, while the house is almost completely free from the influence of China and is self-contained, structural methods, spatial layout, decoration, Artistic styles and so on are very different from Chinese houses.

The tea room, the number of houses, and so on, can be said to be completely original in Japanese architecture. Their aesthetic characteristics are easy to be intimate, humane, and they are good at presenting the natural beauty of materials, construction and functional factors. In addition, in the middle and late Ming Dynasty of China, there were similar ukiyo-e and dry landscapes in Western abstract art. The ancient Japanese architecture can be summarized for: sleek and simple, elegant and free and easy to express the natural material atmosphere. In modern times, this form has undergone fundamental changes. With the Industrial Revolution, China and Japan have completely different endings. One is China that has been bullied by centuries and is still completing the industrialization tasks already advanced by advanced countries. It was a total westernization, and in just 30 years, it completed the basic industrial revolution and moved to Japan for overseas expansion. After World War II, Japan became a developed country that was in line with Europe and the United States, and construction was no exception.

Garden and Architecture’s Combination Influence

Garden and architecture in Japan are one thing. A typical system embraced from China is called ‘Shakkei’, or ‘borrowed scenery’. The ideal Japanese house always gets landscape when they can and this takes into account the extension of one's involvement of room. In tight urban areas, it is common to also see fusuma paintings of buildings, gardens, and landscapes as an illusion to attempt to achieve similar impacts of landscape acquiring.

The scene borrowing the procedure is an outward-looking use of greenery. Another part of Japanese gardens is to look inwards and experience something more prominent. This is the production of microcosms of landscapes and even the universe inside the restricted limits of a garden. This is most commonly found in Japanese rock gardens composed of exotically shaped rocks, and gravel that masks the entire ground land surface. Gravel is raked into unique patterns, representing the flow of water, or of the universe depending on the interpretation, and the rocks usually represent as mountains that imitate scenery found in traditional ink paintings.

The Lee Ufan Museum is an epitome of an architect’s masterful attempt to recall ancient techniques, styles and aesthetic sensibilities in a new, modern form. The geometric structure is exceptionally simple. An open 30×30 meters square paved with cobblestone gravel to welcome visitors, and leads them into a triangular courtyard enclosed by concrete walls. Three rectangular display structure the primary structure. Each is covered into the ground and permits distinctive lighting conditions as wanted by the artist. A combination of both indirect natural light and artificial spotlights are used inside to illuminate the exhibits, further contrasting the artist’s boulder installations with the architect’s rectilinear building. “As in some of my previous architecture, the unity with nature and merging it into the landscape was the main theme of the design”, - says Ando himself, and this is very apparent. From inside the second, enclosed courtyard, the tall concrete walls frame the sky, but moving around, green foliage can be seen peeking over the tops, a deliberate framing on the part of the architect.

House Design Influence from Weather

Traditional houses were built to deal with summer heat more than winter cold under the understanding that residents could put on layers of clothing in the winter. They were built of light materials - wood, bamboo, straw and paper - which provide terrible insulation but allow breezes to enter, air to circulate and heat to escape. In the old days, some houses were so cold in winter that children went outside to play to get warm.

Some Japanese buildings have been constructed to respond to changing weather conditions. The Shosoin Temple, for example, the imperial treasure repository at Nara, has a roof made up of triangular timbers that expand during wet weather to protect the interior from rain and shrink during hot, dry weather to allow ventilation.

Houses and deep projecting roofs to offer protection in heavy monsoon rains. During the hot and humid Japanese summer, the Japanese like to keep cool by creating the illusion of coolness with the sound of running water and wind chimes that sound during the slightest breeze.

Structural Influence from Disaster

Traditional Japanese Building That Survived the Full Force of the Tsunami. In Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture a century-old storehouse somehow survived the March 2011 tsunami, will be preserved with the support of building experts and enthusiasts across the country. The two-story storehouse, which was built in the year following the 1896 Meiji Sanriku Earthquake, is in the Kadonowaki district, about 500 meters from Ishinomaki Bay. The structure's characteristic feature is its namako kabe-style outer walls, which are covered with square tiles with joints protected by plaster.

According to its owner Eiichi Honma, the tsunami washed away Honma's house and another storehouse on his land. The storehouse that survived had part of its outer wall damaged by destroyed houses and cars carried by the tsunami, and its first floor was flooded. However, it withstood the disaster relatively well, probably thanks to repairs to the reinforcement bars of the outer wall last year.

Gojunoto is an earthquake-resistant pagoda erected in 1407 in Nara. The five stories oscillate in opposed phases when there are tremors, which keeps the structure from breaking apart. There is no evidence of the structure ever collapsing. The same techniques are used in modern buildings. The Yasaka Pagoda in Kyoto has survived more than five centuries of earthquakes. During a tremor the entire building sways as each story moves independent around a central anchoring pillar. Scientists are now studying the pagoda for clues on making modern buildings more earthquake-resistant.

The Sendai Mediatheque had survived during the earthquake in March, 2011. The project helped to articulate a more complex relationship than had been the norm between the concepts of structure and skin. The structure of the building, inspired by the movement of seaweed, resulted in a spatially habitable structure and an interior that evokes some of the experiential qualities of a Japanese garden, with various elements placed on its surface. The variations in the location of the building’s structure make each floor unique. As a result, the user’s encounter is radically different from the experience of rational interiors of most modernist buildings, with their repeatable structures. The glass used for the building’s skin is equally innovative. It is responsive to light, affecting one’s perception from both inside and outside. Ito has characterized the overall intentions of this work and of his architecture during this period as a desire for fluidity. For Ito, fluidity was a means of connecting things, such as architecture and the environment, in a manner that was not possible to achieve with the stability of the modernist grid. The malleability and the softening of the grid through a process of trial and error, explored at Sendai, led to the possibility of a conceptually unstable order.

Projects such as Sendai are contingent on a great deal of collaboration with a host of consultants, especially structural engineers. The use of computer simulation for analyzing complex geometry has been critical in enabling the construction of a new and radical type of architectural project. According to Ito, “There were fantastic moments of discovery with these engineers. Together we came up with several new terms to express structures, such as spiral, non-linear and networking. Until then, I was convinced that it was just not possible to draw a ‘spiral’ with a structure…for instance, I had an experience which allowed me to find that space can be changed through slight distortion or bending of the ‘cross-grid system’ that has ruled the 20th-century world”.

The Sendai Mediatheque is one of a series of buildings in which Ito has collaborated with the engineer Mutsuro Sasaki. In contradistinction to the frame structures of most office buildings, or spatial structures such as domes, Sendai, according to Sasaki, produces an ambiguous architectural image, which is “realized as the structural equivalent to a cubic office building inhabited by tubular spatial structures like transformed domes”. This alternative form of structure also led to its synthesis with the services, functions, and the spaces of the building. Sendai is in many respects a new point of departure for Ito. Many of the projects completed since then, even though visually distinct, derive some aspect of their formation from concepts first explored at Sendai.

Materials Influences

Stone construction had been around for a long time in Japan, where sophisticated techniques were used to make stone bridges and tombs. But despite this, there is not one example of a surviving ancient Japanese buildings made of stone.

“The precocious development of Japanese metallurgy may help us understand their early uses of wood”, - writes Boorstin. Stone can be fashioned with stone, while woodworking and wood construction requires tools made of iron. Iron tools, based on prototypes brought over from the Asian mainland, were widely in use when Japanese architecture began in the primitive Yayoi era (300 B.C.'A.D. 300).

Wood, have become an integral part of their lifestyles. The abundance of natural resources led to the refinement of techniques, such as an inventive system of interlocking joints (kigumi), along with a sustainable approach to manage local forestry. A system of proportions between components (kiwari-jutsu) was also established and passed secretly through generations of artisan families.

Another important factor that shaped Japanese wood architecture was the abundance of cypress trees in Japan. Cypress is a soft wood with grains running straight along the length of the tree, which it makes it easy to cut into timber. Early Japanese carpenters didn't even develop cross cut saws or planes, which are necessary to fashion woods with uneven grains. Cypress also has an appealing texture and fragrance, which make ideal for unadorned wooden surface.

By the 16th century the typical Japanese house had post-and-beam construction and elaborate joinery. The floor was raised above ground, its post resting on foundation stone, which allows the structure to bounce in the event of an earthquake. This style of house is still dominant in rural areas.

The Nezu Museum in Tokyo by Kengo Kuma is an attempt to design a museum as an urban design, rather than a single building. As we all know, Kengo Kuma is good to deal with architecture with wood and other natural materials. The avenue of Omotesando, where high-end brand shops and boutiques are jostling one another. The museum has an excellent collection of Japanese and oriental antiques, and with its verdurous Japanese garden and tea rooms. Kengo Kuma wanted the new museum to be linked naturally with its surroundings by the shade from the gentle slope of the roof, located between the busy commercial area and the wood. Layered tiled roof with lowered eaves inherit the original image of the museum and harmonize the new building and the garden. They intended to merge the edge of such linear element to the wood. The end of the rood is a steel plate treated in phosphoric acid to be thinned to its maximum, so that the tile would match the refined works of art in the museum, erasing theme park-like sense of unreality that the tiles tend to have. Phosphoric acid-treatment is also applied to the steel plate panel in the exterior wall, as the material can assimilate to the shade.

The building is not fenced in from the city. Rather, it is open to it through the bamboo thicket, an attempt for a museum as an urban design. People go along the bamboo under the deep eave, like a passage from the lively town to the forest of beauty. Just like ‘Roji’ approach for tea room, visitors need to make turns to change their mood and end the flow from Meiji Shrine.

Inside the museum is softly wrapped in coral gray, a stone which has a similar expression to the bamboo, and integrated into the garden under the shade of the roof. Interior is structured also with layered thin roofs of bamboo and people savor the beauty of all. Another spot for the visitors to enjoy the nature of the garden. Thus, this museum is a device that reunites the city and the forest.

Space Influence from Japanese Traditional Houses

The inside of Japanese houses in the past was for all intents and purposes open, without even screens to parcel off individual spaces. Step by step, as more idea was given to specific territories and their capacities, for example, eating, resting, or dressing, self-standing screens (byobu) came into utilization. Shoji and fusuma, which are still found in many homes, came afterward. Though they serve poorly as sound barriers, they do provide some privacy and can be removed to open up the entire space (except, of course, for the columns that support the house). Space which is generally divided by fusuma sliding entryways into few rooms ends up one space with the fusuma evacuated. This large space can hold any activity as there is no indication of use or program. Shoji also admits light.

The way in which Japanese view the interior and the exterior of the house is another key part of traditional design. Rather than seeing the inside and outside as two distinctly different environments, they are thought of as being continuous elements. This concept is embodied in the Japanese engawa, which acts as a kind of transition space from inside to outside the house. The nure-en, which is fixed to the side of the house and gets wet when it rains, is a variation of the engawa. From an aesthetic standpoint, the traditional house is designed for people who are seated on the floor, not standing. Doors, windows, and alcoves are placed so that both artwork in the house and the garden outside can be viewed appropriately from a sitting position.

Despite the changes that modernization has brought to the style of houses, the traditional Japanese style has not vanished. Even in the Westernized houses, it is still common to find a room whose floor is covered with tatami, and it is still the custom for people to remove their shoes before entering the house.

The Naoshima Ferry Terminal in Kochi by SANAA is an extraordinarily light building because of the extreme thinness of its components: a thin roof held up by a forest of extremely slender columns distributed on a grid. Approaching the harbor from the sea, a passenger standing on the ferry deck finds it difficult to make out the terminal because of its lightness and the minimal depth of its components. Under the roof, however, one is impressed by the large expanse of its horizontal plane, whose edge is an upper frame for the landscape, with ample room for many activities underneath. In order to enhance the views of this landscape, particularly when one is seated in the waiting area or in the café, the floor beneath the roof is gradually raised from the edges to a height of 60 cm.


Architecture is connected to the land, and that land, to its environment. It is never made in a vacuum, and it won't be until we move out from earth. So, I accept that when designing any architecture, in the case that you can afford to, it is in every important to explore the atmosphere and culture of that locale and region. Time and space are inseparable, however the Japanese unquestionably have a higher spotlight on the last mentioned, because of its topographical area and populace thickness. A few examples took a gander at above the essay showed the various systems and stunts used to change the viewer's impression of room, and enable them to encounter it as though it were bigger than it really is, impacts that are as yet utilized today in both customary and modern structures. The ethnic Shinto religion laid the ground for the regard that the Japanese have for structure materials. Materials are treated with consideration and the best craftsmanship and are exposed since materials are most treasured in their common structure. Gardens have also been a fundamental part of the Japanese way of life, and the examples, took a garden at investigated the various ways that the regular world is brought into the structure, just as how little gardens can catch the magnificence and nearness of bigger, progressively generous scenes. Lastly, modern architects today also pull references from older styles that were successful and incorporated them into the design and planning of their structures. All of the examples referenced were effective in what they were trying to achieve, although whether or not all of these techniques are successful cannot be captured by writing or photography, and must be experienced in person. However, at last, I thoroughly consider the demonstration of going of their approach to consolidate the sensibilities of nearby design into their work merits applauding in its very own right, and I especially want to do something like that.

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