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!


Degas to Picasso at The Ashmolean Museum

The Ashmolean Museum has long since been one of my favourite Museums in Britain; Its grand exterior, huge collection and extensive range of content have always drawn me, from my first visit nearly 10 years ago on a school Latin trip.


The artists featured in the exhibition

Having learnt Ballet from the age of 11 I’ve always been enthralled by Degas’ beautiful oil paintings of dancers from unique, novel standpoints; the impressionist fluidity brings beauty to the eye of all beholders! I recently started learning more about Pablo Picasso, after visiting a wonderful exhibition at my favourite modern art museum (Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark) entitled ‘Picasso before Picasso’, housing many of his early sketches and pieces produced while he was still studying. Naturally, having seen a sign on the Underground “Degas to Picasso”, my interest was peaked, and a return megabus trip to Oxford was booked!

Housed across a single floor at the top of the museum, the exhibition isn’t the largest space you’ll see names such as Matisse, Chagall and Renoir displayed, but it’s certainly not cramped! Going on a quiet Thursday afternoon in term time, I was surprised at how busy the exhibition was, and I can’t imagine what it must be like on a Saturday afternoon, expect queueing to see your favourite artists works!


The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

The exhibition takes you chronologically from the start of the artistic revolution. Historically starting post French Revolution and beginning with the works of Jaques Louis David, often perceived to be the founder of the Neoclassical movement in the art world. His painting The Oath of Horatii was wildly popular within the 1785 Paris Salon. Along side this you will discover a wide range of works, including Géricault’s often brutal and realist paintings of war, balanced against some lighter political satire from the 1860s by Daumier; think classical Banksy.

From the revolutionaries the exhibition takes you forward to a new era in art history. In 1874 a small group of artists split from the Paris Salon to pave the way for an astounding new artistic movement; Impressionism. Monet, Degas, Renoir, Pissaro and Cezanne set a blazing trail in to the unknown genre, free from any prerequisite rules of the classical art world.

Gris Painting

Still Life with Guitar – Juan Gris

The final section of the exhibition focussed on Picasso, and other innovators of cubism, modernism and surrealism. The Ursula and R. Stanley Johnson Family Collection provide a selection of both his work, and the work of artists such as Braque. My favourite pieces in this section, were those by Juan Gris, demonstrating the beauty of cubism, as seen on the left (image borrowed from Google).

Overall, the exhibition is a fantastic introduction to this era of art. It may not be the longest exhibition, but it is well worth the trip to the museum! It’s not often you find yourself with the opportunity to be in the same room as so many great pieces of art work; 5*s!