As the richness of its tradition; every

As Walter Gropius once said, “What impressed me in Japan is the fact that the cultural strata of over a thousand years reaches clearly into present day life. You cannot imagine what it meant to me to come suddenly face to face with these houses, with a culture still alive, which in the past had already found the answer to many of our modern requirements of simplicity, of outdoor-indoor relations, or modular coordination, and at the same time, variety of expression, resulting in a common form language uniting all individual efforts.” What makes modern Japanese architecture so different then, from other modern architectural styles like the International Style? It is Japan’s embrace of its culture and history that is evident even in its modernity so heavily steeped in the richness of its tradition; every design choice has been informed by centuries of precedence. As Walter, a pioneer of the Modernist movement, puts it, “Nothing in this simplicity is left to chance”. It really should come to no surprise that the Japanese have had the solutions to many of our modern architectural requirements all the while maintaining the integrity of their culture, something most Western cultures still struggle with today. The International Style, on the other hand, was an architectural style that emerged post World War II. Much like the Japanese style, the style rejects ornamentation and celebrates minimalism. However, while Japan’s style is a result of centuries long tradition and utilized materials in its most natural state possible, the International Style was a result of industrialization in the West, where mass produced materials like glass and steel were preferred.Based on my research on the history of traditional Japanese architecture, I attempted to identify design elements that were unique to Japan’s buildings then and that are still prominent in modern Japan now, elements that make these spaces inherently ‘Japanese’:GenkanImage 4: A traditional genkan | Image 5: Genkan in a modern settingThe genkan is the traditional Japanese entryway into a house or space and acts as an important transition space between the outside and coming inside. In Japanese and many Asian cultures, it is customary to remove one’s shoes and change into indoor slippers or remain in socks to avoid bringing dirt into the house. Traditional Japanese houses were raised a couple of feet off the ground to allow for ventilation, thus the genkan would typically be on ground level. This cultural act of stepping up and into the house is still practiced today across Asian countries.ShojiImage 6: A traditional shoji | Image 7: Shoji in a modern setting Shoji refers to a sliding door or window that is made up of very natural materials – Japanese washi (paper) mounted onto a wood frame. It is usually placed on the inner side of the engawa (covered exterior corridor) and can be slid open to allow for movement between the inner tatami clad floors onto the exterior corridor. The white translucent paper filters the light from the outside, allowing muted light to come through into the space. In modern contexts, the shoji has been moved inside and instead acts as partition doors between sections of a house.FusumaImage 8: A traditional fusuma | Image 9: Fusuma in a modern setting The fusuma is similar to shoji in that it is a sliding door. However while shoji allows light through, this inner partition wall is typically opaque and acts as a divider between rooms in a Japanese house. Open floor plans are common in a typical Japanese house, where the use of the fusuma defines a space flexibly to cater to different needs. Nature motives are painted onto the fusuma, allowing it to be both functional and aesthetic, but in more recent times, it is usually left bare. Engawa Image 10: A traditional engawa | Image 11: Engawa in a modern setting The engawa carries out the same function of reinforcing the connection between the interior and exterior spaces. It is neither completely covered nor completely open – a covered exterior corridor that runs around the outside of a building’s main space and acts as an extension of the interior space. Although usually narrow, it is often proportioned so that it can also serve as a sitting area so one can sit and look outside into the gardens, acting like a porch or veranda. The engawa is traditionally built with a set of wooden sliding doors that can be closed depending on the season, offering protection during inclement weather since the interior shoji screens can provide no such protection.