Post War Japanese Architecture ~ The Japanese House @ The Barbican Centre


The Barbican Centre

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).


Mountain retreat designed and inhabited by Architect Junzo Yoshimura

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.


Photo of a minimalist, open house in Japan.


Spot the dining room table.

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 ceiling light in the Tea House.

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.


Part of the interior of Fujimori’s Tea House

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.



Scale model of one of the houses in the shinden-zukuri style.

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.



Inside 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!


Eltham Palace ~ An Art Deco Day 

Just south of London lies a modest country house, once the childhood home of King Henry VIII.


Virginia Courtauld’s Bathroom

Eltham Palace has recently become renowned for its beautiful Art Deco interiors, it’s halls still ringing with ghosts of extravagant dinner parties hosted throughout the 1930s. It’s history however, has not always been so glamorous.

The first recorded sign of Eltham Palace is found in the Doomsday Book of 1086, listing it as Eltham Manor, belonging to William the Conquerors half brother, Odo. The house changed hands many times over the next few centuries, with owners gradually adding to the architecture of the estate. By the 14th Century, Eltham Palace was one of King Edward III’s royal palaces. The palace was surrounded by a moat, complete with drawbridge and high walls.


Stained Glass Windows in the Great Hall; a Throwback to Tudor times.

The children of Henry VII were brought up at Eltham, which served as a Royal Nursery for future monarchs and royals, including Henry VIII. Henry VIII however preferred  Hampton Court, and started building and decorating there instead of Eltham, whilst Greenwich Palace served as his London Palace, being closer to Westminster and more easily accessible.

Throughout the Civil War (1648) Eltham was used as a base for Cromwell’s troops, and subsequently fell into disrepair. By the turn of the 19th century the once regal palace was reduced to a farmstead, the Great Hall now a barn, the palace in ruins.

Stephen and Virginia Courtauld discovered the dilapidated Eltham Palace in 1933, and set about restoring it to glory. Having hired architects Seely and Paget to rebuild the estate they looked to Christopher Wren’s work for inspiration and decided on a brick and Clipsham stone exterior. The development was haulted by a battle with the Society of Antiquaries who were concerned with the loss of areas of historical interest. Once this had been pacified, and reassurances had been sought that several features, including the 15th century timber gables in the great Hall would be preserved, building work began.


The exterior of the Palace

Eltham Palace was a haven of modern technology; electricity powered many internal systems including the clocks, servants bells, lighting, they even had their own internal telephone exchange. Eltham also boasted a centralised vacuum cleaning system, only seen to this day in larger houses. It’s mechanism can be seen in the basement.

During the Second World War Eltham suffered badly; in 1940, during the Battle of Britain 4 bombs landed on the great Hall causing extensive damage, a further 100 bombs fell within the grounds. A year later a parachute mine damaged the great Hall again, and in 1944 a flying bomb severely damaged the greenhouses. Stephen  Courtauld, an avid orchid collector, had thankfully evacuated his previous plants in 1939. Throughout the war the basement was turned into a dormitory, and the family welcomed anyone who needed shelter, having invited her relatives initially Ginie opened her house to those in need.

The war however left the Courtaulds scarred, and they eventually decided to move to their Scotland estate on Loch Etive in Argyll.


The Art Deco Drawing Room where Ginie hosted Lavish Dinner Parties

In its time, before the devastating effects of the War, Eltham was seen as the Gatsby mansion of London. Ginie enjoyed throwing lavish parties, as well as small dinner parties for  selected few. Stephen designed cocktails for every occasion and they flourished as the elegant, affluent hosts. The great Hall frequently housed chamber orchestras, bands and singers whilst guests danced the night away in perfect luxury.

Upon arriving at Eltham you’re provided with an audio guide that takes you on a guided tour of the house and gardens, complete with interactive multimedia it gives you a sense of what the house would have been like in the 1930s. You can meet the family, and the beautiful lemur, experience the parties, even listen to some of the guests accounts!


Park of the Beautiful grounds of the Palace

There are special tours for children to enjoy,  as well as activity packs for them to work through and a play area too. On site there’s a lovely cafe and beautiful gardens for everyone to enjoy, and just a short bus ride from Greenwich it’s easy to get to from central London too! Bristling with Tudor history and Art Deco architecture it’s the perfect day out for everyone!