Modern Architecture in Japan –  Japan, a country known for its technological innovation, is said to have stayed close to its traditional and cultural values, and it continues to do so. Throughout the shifts in Japanese history, there has been a constant expression of the country’s traditions in each of the trends. In specific, the planning principles of Japanese houses. Japan is a densely populated country which explains the mindful use of spaces in Japanese houses.

The idea of a Japanese home is ‘the manipulation of the visitor’s posture at arrival’ (Chaiyapatranun, 2018). A person living or visiting the space must feel balanced and be calmed as they pause and look around. Such an experience is humbling and makes everyone feel one and the same.

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Image 1_Zenshin-an Teahouse_©

The Emergence

The late 19th century saw the initiation of Modern architecture in Japan. It was around this time when modern architecture emerged, and actively spread around the world by the early 20th century. It is based on the use of materials like glass, reinforced concrete and steel and the use of modern construction technology.

Modern architecture is all about eliminating the ornamentation and simplifying the existing, yet making the best use of technology, both of which grew from the population boom and demand for huge-scale built structures in cities. A fact of interest is that the characteristics of modern architecture and the principles of traditional architecture more or less align with each other. As the former says ‘Form follows Function’; the latter calls for simplicity, hence both styles call for a similar approach.

As a motto of modern architecture, simple forms and truth to materials are some of the principles which are also followed in Buddhist architecture.

Architects Practicing Modern Architecture

Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd, and Mies Van der Rohe were some of the first to influence the modernist style of architecture in the European context. Kenzo Tange and Tadao Ando were few of the foremost architects to practice and bring the modern style to Japan. Ando’s Azuma House in Osaka which was one of his first works went on to become the first building in modernist style. 

Built after World war II, Azuma House or the Row House (as it was built between two narrowed walls), Tadao went on for concrete loadbearing walls in a closed cubic form. This design was a response to the hostile surroundings of the Sumiyoshi neighborhood. The result turned out to be a concrete box looking out on the inside, a total contrast to the traditional house which would have a sloped wooden roof with exterior openings.

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Image 2_ Entrance of Azuma House, Osaka_©

“The excessive building density caused by intense urbanization in Japanese cities is irrevocably destroying the natural world with which houses can no longer come into direct contact. Current homes cannot have openings to the outside.” – Tadao Ando

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Image 3_ Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum_©

The Hiroshima Pease Memorial Museum, constructed after becoming the winning entry of a competition, went on to become one of the first modern buildings in Japan and also shaped Tange’s initial phase of his career. The museum, a long, horizontal structure of glass and concrete raised above ground on concrete columns, is reminiscent of buildings by Le Corbusier (Lempesis) 

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Image 4_ Yoyogi national gymnasium kenzo tange_©
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Image 5_ Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, Oyamazaki, Japan_©

Modern architecture in Japan is another form of style reinvented within the country and certainly not foreign to the practice. It recalls some of the principles practised as back as in the 8th century, in the Heian Period, such as the open planning. This comes with the concept that Japanese culture is the driving factor of the country in a larger context, let alone architecture. Though the modernisation in Japanese practice was a Western-European influence, the approach and methods developed were unique to the native architectural practice.


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