Japan, a country known to have birthed more than just the sun, is one that celebrates the equipoise of the past and the present, one that bears the superlative balance between the traditional and the modern, it is one that boasts the most relevant principles today. The country though does not restrict the said principles only to the values inspired in the generations; it guides the olden theories into the trends of every stretch, arraying across fashion, lifestyle, trade, and of course the one that encompasses the physicality of them all, architecture.

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With time and the convergence of global influences, one can notice the rudiments that have now taken root into the architectural tenets of the world, and that in turn, has spun an axiom that every country has adopted. The statement, to be understood not along the communal lines but that of an entire nation, entails that countries often perceive the vernacular and contemporary as individual abstractions and end up posting blocks of concrete which lack character and at their core, lack connection to the land they sit on.

For, to memorialize history in the urban fabric is to materialize originality, and Japan is one of the handful few who chose to graduate from their past by retaining their identity and by establishing what we recognize today as ‘The Contemporary Tenets of Japanese Architecture’ – a demonstration of which are the numerous architectural marvels in the country.

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Japanese contemporary architecture is most often admired for the simplicity it pairs with the concept-laden forms, the kind that speaks volumes through the experience it promises the viewer. The mirage of levitation, a connection with the atmosphere, and contemplation over its stability, yet an assurance of its equilibrium are a few of the countless ways Japanese architecture does the same.

Albeit, the schemes of a modernized building as designed by the architect are to each his own; for, the principles stem from inspiration from the past, and because of the subjective nature of inspirations, structures are built with variable intent. The implication being that one can effortlessly adapt the tenets as a raw foundation for their creations and some even abide by it unintentionally. But beyond the role of the human conscience in the design process – one can loosely assort those very principles along the lines of both, the origins of inspiration and individual ideation to establish and posit the contemporary tenets of Japanese architecture.

1. Impermanence

Japan is a country that once housed cities where a majority of the buildings were in timber and hence, susceptible to fire, natural disaster, and the elements; that coupled with the wartime period across the 20th century led to the destruction of most of these buildings. However, while this factuality could be an incentive for some to endorse absolute structural integrity in their work; at the same time, it can and is considered an even greater incentive to realize how architecture can reflect the country and its circumstances.

This contrariety, interestingly, was actualized through the Metabolism Movement and best reflected in the work of Kisho Kurokawa, who believed architecture should mirror the organic movement of nature, as do the four seasons. The very principle to create what is adaptable, removable, and interchangeable; the concept of ‘impermanence’ in structures, those that change with time and space has continued to date in varying proportions and based on individual adaptation across the globe.

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2. Impossibility

A consequence of ideation that parallels the tangible and intangible at the same time, ‘impossibility’ is a tenet that dictates the establishment of negative and positive spaces better for augmentation of light in a space, all to manipulate the human mind around the perceived notions of visual equilibrium. An architect, to do so, often picks materials as a medium which involves a meticulous selection of the same and deriving a playful fashion for it to be proposed as.

Tadao Ando, often considered the messiah in our collective pursuit of material perfection, has for long boasted the compelling manipulation of light and shadow within and around the domains of his interlocking platonic volumes. His work having model successful imitations of gravity defiance and spaces that seem to be detached from both structural soundness and reality has over time, laid out the templates for the new creators to inspire and stimulate themselves for more ‘impossible’ creations.

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3. Receptivity

Japanese culture, like most, encourages sensitivity, the kind that is unrestricted of materialistic bounds; extending into the realm of human conscience, contemporary architecture in Japan seeks to fabricate a whole new experience for the viewer. Although an intangible notion that has interpretive illustrations across the world, Japanese architects strive to receive the emotions, translate it into the form which, for each one, will appear to be exclusive. However, the translation of emotions into a form requires the exact instrumentality – novel material innovations, experimental concepts, and imaginative forms – the likes of which are visible in singular composition systems such as the works of Sou Fujimoto and those of SANAA.

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‘Impermanence’, ‘Impossibility’, and ‘Receptivity’, are the three contemporary tenets of Japanese architecture that have graduated from the intangible to the tangible. The statement entailing that the said triad can and are, subject to individual opinion, i.e. one may choose to discern only one of the three or two of the three tenets in a built form. But, regardless of which, the essence of the tenets lies in the mannerisms the form has adopted to promise the user a unique experience while dually managing the instigation of thought about the life of the structure itself and contemplation over the architectural marvel.

One such work, the sort that leaves an indelible impression on anyone, be it a user, viewer, or a passerby, is the Ribbon Chapel, Hiroshima, Japan by Hiroshi Nakamura & NAP. Its near ‘impossible’ form of two helical spirals supporting each other is the materialization of the bond two humans have for marriage, it’s loosely defined façade that rises to the skies by welcoming the light in is what paints the equilibrium between stability and ‘impermanence’, and the chapel’s very enclosure, a consequence of the helices, resembles the warmth and translates it into an embrace, which again refines the ‘reception’ of the expected experience on the user’s end.

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The contemporary tenets of Japanese architecture, as proposed, are in the end, loose strands one can either seize as a design opportunity or allow themselves to be segregated with the tenets themselves. For, each form, each built composition and all architecture in the land of the rising sun, has relevance in today’s age because of the inferences the architect makes by incorporating the tenets and at the same time, all Japanese architecture speaks for itself due to the true realization of the concept of the creator; but for those with their eyes upon it, trifurcating and re-conceiving the tenets is what allows one to interpret it by themselves, for themselves.


A student in the discipline of Architecture, who ardors macabre art and as one with many words to speak, he favors the others alike. He is also a strong believer in the authority of Mother Nature and perhaps, also the kind who romances with the abstraction of the ordinary.

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