Exploring ‘The Japanese House’ at Barbican Art Gallery


Photo: Miles Willis / Getty Images

The Japanese House: Architecture and Life after 1945 is the first major UK exhibition to focus on Japanese domestic architecture from the end of the Second World War to present day. The exhibition is running at Barbican Art Gallery until 25 June and it is well worth a visit, even if you don’t know the first thing about architecture. You can buy your tickets here.

Japanese domestic architecture has produced some of the most influential and extraordinary examples of modern and contemporary design, and this exhibition traces the origins of contemporary architecture in Japan and their social and cultural significance.

Following Japan’s defeat at the end of the Second World War, the scale of bombing in Tokyo and other cities meant that 50% of the country’s housing stock had been lost. This necessitated practical and easy-to-construct houses for key workers and families. Then, at the height of the country’s economic boom, architects became more experimental with the relationship between the private home space and the rapidly-growing cities they were in. At the same time, the search for harmony between traditional Japanese architecture and contemporary western-style produced its own unique structures.

Photo: Miles Willis / Getty Images

The Japanese House features over 40 architects, ranging from renowned 20th century masters and internationally celebrated contemporary architects to young rising stars little known outside of Japan. Some of the most ground-breaking architectural projects of the last 70 years, many of which have never been exhibited in the UK, are also on display.

Along with the upstairs exhibition, a visit to the teahouse and garden in the lower gallery is essential. Commissioned by Terunobu Fujimori, visitors can remove their shoes to climb into the teahouse and take in the views from the rest of the exhibition. If you’ve never visited Japan before, this isn’t a bad place to start.

Photo: Ben Tynegate

The other part of the lower gallery is transformed into a full-size recreation of the Moriyama House by the award-winning architect Ryue Nishizawa (SANAA), which is considered to be one of the most important houses of the 21st century. Visitors can wonder through this radical decomposition of a conventional house, a building which consists of ten individual units separated by an exterior garden. Hundreds of objects give the exhibition a ‘lived in’ feeling and recreate the world of the house’s eccentric owner, Yasuo Moriyama.

At the very end of the exhibition is a world premiere screening of Moriyama-san, from the film makers Ila Bêka and Louise Lemoine, which documents Ila’s stay with Yasuo Moriyama. This was my highlight of the entire exhibition. The film is charming, entertaining and well worth watching from beginning to end.

I highly recommend The Japanese House: Architecture and Life after 1945 for anyone with an interest in Japan and, of course, architecture. I didn’t know what to expect before I visited but left feeling much more knowledgeable about Japanese design and how the country’s rapidly changing fortunes, family structures and cities helped to shape its homes.

The exhibition runs until 25 June and you can buy your tickets here.

Photo: Miles Willis / Getty Images

 

 

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