It’s 1945, the war is over, Japan lies in ruin. Tokyo and many other cities have been badly destroyed, and a housing crisis is imminent. Architects search for a quick and convenient way to ensure Japan’s citizens are housed, and single family homes become the new favoured architectural style. The Japanese House: Architecture and Life after 1945 takes you on a journey through Japanese architecture, from the post-war era to present day.
The exhibition is set over 2 floors, and there’s plenty to see and do here. It is incredibly tranquil and relaxing. The first room examines the role of Architects in 1950s Japan. In 1952 the Treaty of San Francisco was signed, and the Allies left Japan, after 7 years of occupation. Japanese national identity was thrown into crisis, so architects and artists looked at ways to amalgamate both traditional designs with the modern needs of the nation.
Two styles were chosen as a basis for modern design; Shinden-Zukuri, dating back to the Helan-period of 794-1185CE, designed around raised floors and open spaces (as shown below), and Minka which was generally used in rural houses and featured natural earthen floors, with large columns and roofs, dating back to the ancient Jomon period (10,500-300BC).
The mediums the architects had to work with were reduced by the post-war economy. Architects began looking at concrete in its raw, rather than industrial forms. As over 60% of Japan’s land area is filled with forests wood has always been a fairly limitless resource. In combination the two proved to be incredibly resistant to earthquakes, and in design the stark difference between the warm nature of wood and cold industrial nature of Concrete somehow work. An example of this is seen left, in Yoshimura’s own house, where the concrete floor joins seamlessly into the forest floor.
During 1967-1969 the people of Japan rose up, and although this resistance was quickly dissipated it gave architects inspiration for a new styles. It also killed old styled. The Japanese style of Metabolism, an idealist style aiming for “Progress and Harmony for Humankind” did not sit with the younger generations.
After this, architects moved away from city life, and throughout the 1980s and 1990s larger, open spaces become more common. The 1950s/60s rush into enclosed urban housing moved away to the beautiful rural areas of Japan. Large open spaces and courtyards became more common, as can be seen in the model on the left.
The exhibition continues downstairs, allowing you to explore 2 Japanese Houses. The first house is a 1:1 recreation of Ryue Nishizawa’s 2005 Moriyama House, built of 10 individual units, and filled with hundreds of objects, including books, house plants, a washing machine, records and other house decor. The replicated house originally belonged to Yasuo Moriyama, and demonstrates how Japanese architects moved away from the traditional idea of a house.
Outside the house you can watch Ila Beka and Louise Lemoine’s new film Moriyama-san which I didn’t get to watch fully, although it is very tempting to return, and watch the whole thing.
The second half of the downstairs area comprises of a second house and moss-themed garden. Terunobu Fujimori, a Japanese architect and historian commissioned this tea house and garden. The tea-house is simply built, formed of a single room with a timber exterior and white plaster interior, with walls covered in irregular rock pieces. If you remove your shoes, you can enter the house (4 people maximum at a time). It is wonderfully tranquil and ultimately minimalist.
The exhibition is beautifully laid out and fairly compartmentalised; upstairs houses all the models, and plans for various Japanese housing designs, and contains most of the information, whilst the downstairs houses the two houses described above. Admittedly I went on a Sunday afternoon, so it was never going to be deserted, but the exhibition did seem a tad crowded at times, mainly upstairs where there were a couple of bottle necks, although the downstairs felt spacious, although you may have to queue to enter the house.
The Japanese House: Architecture and Life after 1945 runs at the Barbican Art Gallery until 25 June, and tickets range from £5-£14.50.
N.B. If you’re under 25 listen up! This is the first time I’ve taken advantage of my Young Barbican membership, and I’m sad I haven’t used it more, especially given I lived there for my first year of uni! The exhibition was only £5, and you can see loads of cinema and theatre for between £5-£15, which for London is a bargain! Don’t miss out, sign up today! It’s free, and is one of the best Young Person’s schemes available!