Barbican, London – The Japanese House

This year the Barbican centre ran an exhibition; ‘The Japanese House: Architecture and Life after 1945’.

I was impressed by the creative layout, a large gallery was used, in the centre, a life-sized house and garden were installed. This was surrounded by individual galleries telling the story of evolving design in the post-war decades.

What better way to celebrate the economical use of space and thoughtful design present in Japanese homes than to make it a central theme of your exhibition.

Upon entering – the first gallery features a set of movies showing Japanese life in the 40s and 50s; a good intro to the sights and sounds, it gives you a sense of how the space at home was used.

Part of the focus of the exhibition is the identity challenge japan faced after the war. Post-war, American design and culture was popular, however as confidence returned there was an increasing desire to return to Japanese values. Designers were experimenting with various aspects of traditional Japanese design and trying to figure out the best way to combine these with western design.

The videos highlight the strange mix of American hairstyles and clothing with the Japanese way of living – eating, drinking tea etc.

The central space with mock-up houses surrounded by individual galleries.

The first set of photographs are from Yasuhiro Ishimoto and feature traditional Japanese architecture. I could really connect with Ishimoto’s style, his focus is on the clean geometric lines and this emphasises the beauty and simplicity of traditional palaces and temples in Japan.

These are followed further on with a couple of nice prints of a house designed by Kiyoshi Seike. In post-war Japan there was a preference for western-style housing, however, Seike was designing modern modular homes using traditional Japanese design theory.

The exhibition featured a number of interesting books that go into detail about the different traditional styles in Japan.

One of the things you will see in Japan is an extremely creative use of small plots of land. The exhibition features prints of original concrete designs built cheaply by people that held small plots.

A quick web search of Japanese architecture will show the huge volume and variety of styles of these houses. I think the exhibition could have included more variety of modern houses, however, I think the focus was more on the post-war evolution.

There was one stunning print of Junzo Yoshimura’s mountain lodge.

And there is Kazunari Sakamoto’s ‘closed box’ house, where the focus is on efficient use of space. At the time I could imagine this felt ground breaking and exciting, however I personally found the concrete narrow rooms to look too cold.

Kazuo Shinoharo’s ‘House Under High Voltage Lines’ addressed a key challenge in Japanese cities; the regulations and restrictions that have to be dealt with surrounding the power lines – one of the things that make Japanese cities so recognisable.

The exhibition also featured some interesting small models.

And some sketches.

A trip to the Barbican isn’t complete without enjoying a bit of sun in the courtyard and appreciating one of the occasions where concrete architecture is done well.

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