The Japanese House

Japanese houses are indicative of an extraordinary collective mindset:

Many of those designed and built after 1945 portray a willingness to experiment with form and function, belying a ferocity of presence in the face of existential threats like earthquakes and onerous inheritance taxes.

What I find most curious is the embrace and in many ways, championing of brave architecture after the second world war, given the cultural reverence of tradition that extended to how buildings, including homes and public spaces, were designed and used prior to that conflict.

Japanese cities were in some parts entirely leveled, yet the architectural landscape that arose from those ashes expressed a freedom to innovate with how inhabitants interact with spaces and with each other in those spaces, seemingly far removed from the yolk of history.

As much as the physical constraints of urban settings, like small plots and a lack of light in dense cities can influence the design of modern Japanese single-family homes, there is a daring on the part of homeowners who commission private architects to design very specific concepts, quite apart from the plethora of construction company prefab structures on offer.

In turn, Japanese architects bring an unflinching focus to such commissions and a determination to perfectly realize the opportunity that lies hidden in a client’s boldness and a challenging setting.

“…younger architects express themselves solely through these little houses… They’ll often spend two or three years on a tiny house, making it perfect. It’s a lengthy process in which they’ll make maybe 50 or 100 paper models…” – Cathelijne Nuijsink – MARK Magazine, 40, 63.

Important materials in small contemporary houses include concrete and glass, not dissimilar to a contemporary design on the Atlantic Seaboard in Cape Town, though different to traditional Japanese timber structures with oblique rooflines.

This language extends to public buildings, where the likes of the renowned self-taught architect, Tadao Ando have designed structures with hidden complexities and in uncompromising materials.

Are there are lessons to be drawn from both client and architect in Japanese urban settings that are applicable in our own cities? Our houses can significantly affect the choreography of our lifestyles. Our design choices express either a desire for physical and conceptual isolationism or a willingness to engage with a community of neighbours and courageous architecture.


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