By Vinuri Ethapane

Seeking simplicity through a patiently practiced planning technique can best describe Japanese architecture. Japan today eagerly responds to 20th century architecture with a delicate transition from its early fascinating simplicity, responsiveness to nature and free sprit to an experimental and technologically advanced practice. Nevertheless the traditional domestic houses of Japan contain a serene quality and harmony with nature that cannot be ignored.

This quality was brought about by mainly two schools of thought, one being completely practical and the other being of an extreme respect toward nature.

The practical reasoning behind the domestic houses of Japan being built to be extremely light in its construction is mainly due to the unpredictability of the frequent earthquakes that riddle the country. This left the Japanese with no other alternative but to build minimally as destruction would then have a minor impact on the dwellers. It was during the 11th century that the distinctive formation of the symmetrical house set within a large garden came to be. The symmetrical room arrangement with long corridors connecting each dwelling unit became a signature design technique and was classified as shinden-zukuri style of construction.

One of the major considerations of Japanese construction was the additional weight of the doors and windows. The solution for this was the invention of the traditional Japanese door, window and partition wall called a “shoji”. This consisted of a translucent paper over a frame of wood. The paper in turn holds together a lattice of wood or bamboo. The traditional paper called “Washi” is a type of paper made in Japan for this specific purpose; it was developed in Japan from a traditional Chinese paper making process. In Japan it was most commonly made with the fibers from trees and shrubs, as well as the fibers from bamboo, rice and wheat.

One of the major considerations of Japanese construction was the additional weight of the doors and windows.

This became an economical and structural solution at the time and today has become a signature symbol of Japanese architecture. Its translucency giving adequate light and sufficient privacy became an additional benefit to the already existing delicate beauty of the Japanese shoji type of partition.

“Washi” is a paper stronger than ordinary paper, not only was it used in the cladding of partitions, but was also used as a fabric for other art forms accustomed only to Japan such as origami, and “Shodo” which is Japanese calligraphy which are all produced using “washi”. Everyday items such as fabric for clothes furniture and even lanterns are made using this paper in its different degrees of varying colour, opacity and strength.

Modern western societies are now adopting these eastern concepts as it is in par with the trend of minimalism, long practiced by the people of the east. The type of door is designed as sliding, which slides against the wall clad with the same “washi” paper. The sliding mechanism saves the space otherwise used by a swing door. The fragile divider between the inside of a house and the natural surroundings creates a soft transition between the same.

Today the same types of doors are used in contemporary construction using paper made by modern manufacturing processes and with the use of a plastic cladding mirrors the simplistic concepts developed by the Japanese people.


Japanese architecture 2 architectural design volume 62-no 9/10 September-October 1992 Wikipedia

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