Japanese architects make it big… with a natural sensibility

Article: Japanese architects make it big on world stage, not with monuments but with a natural sensibility (10 August 2014)

Link: http://www.foxbusiness.com/markets/2014/08/10/japan-architects-make-it-big-on-world-stage-not-with-monuments-but-with-natural/

This article highlights the rise of a “new generation” of Japanese architects who are achieving success and recognition that is attributed to their specific style of design that has been called “uniquely Japanese”. Here, Japan is represented and presented as having a special connection with and sensitivity to nature that is reflected in its style of architecture. This Japanese architecture is characterised by a blending with nature, and a focus on natural shapes and building materials (e.g. wood).

However, extending beyond the choice of materials and design styles, the article puts forth the idea that being one with nature is embedded in the Japanese psyche, or DNA. This sentiment is echoed specifically by two of the architects – architect Sou Fujimoto declares that the “understanding of the connection between nature and the man-made is Japanese.” Kengo Kumo also states that this is something that is part of the “[Japanese] genetic makeup”. The image thus being presented is that familiar myth of Japan and Japanese people having an intrinsic and built-in love of nature (Kalland and Asquith, 1997).

Even the fact that this style of Japanese architecture is a relatively new phenomenon (rather than something that has been ever-present) is conveniently explained away by saying that their predecessors, who did not exhibit such “natural sensibilities” in their designs, were actually emulating their Western counterparts. In such a manner, the idea of Japanese architecture being “natural” is also achieved by comparing and contrasting Japanese and Western architecture – the latter described in negative terms such as “monster skyscrapers”, made by “merely… stacking blocks on top of each other”.

However, as Kalland and Asquith (1997), Kirby (2011), and other scholars have refuted, this idea of an intrinsic and unique ‘Japanese love for nature’ is in fact a myth, which the article itself alludes to. Kuma himself admires an American architect (Frank Lloyd Wright) who is known for his designs that “[cherish] nature and people”. Another featured architect, Shigeru Ban, clearly rejects the idea that his designs are Japanese or traditional, pointing out that these so-called Japanese influences can also be seen in American architects – yet he is still included in this list of architects with a “Japanese natural sensibility”, and the overall message conveyed in the article is that there is a style of architecture, sensitive to nature, that is uniquely Japanese, furthering the myth of a nature-loving Japan, even in the sphere of architecture.