Japan Today



Architecture in Japan

By Peter Boronski

Architecture in Japan is a broad canvas. There is a great deal of history and a legacy of craftsmanship behind the formidable engineering and highly regarded aesthetic sensibility that drives the reputation today. An army of superlatives readily rolls out. From the oldest company in the world (Kongo Gumi, construction, est. 578), to the longest single-span bridge (Kobe to Awaji island 1970m). Japanese architects have designed for Armani and Dior and several of the world’s leading art institutions and Tange, Maki and Ando have each received the Pritzker prize.

But sometimes the details tell a little more. As happens around the world problems arise, imbalances develop and policy has to be modified. Building culture evolves.

Read more in Insight by architect Peter Boronski.

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while there are some excellent examples of creative architecture in Japan, there are also many depressively appalling creations that leave a lot to be desired...while the same can be said for many other countries, given that Japan prides itself on such concepts as 'harmony' and 'aesthetics' you would think the bar would be a little higher over here.

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No, I'm afraid the way it seems to work here is that someone gets declared as "great" and then everyone wants him (or her) to design their buildings. Ando is a perfect example. His buildings are dreadful creations, bad on almost all levels (appearance, function, appropriateness to surroundings, etc.), and yet he's highly sought after.

Terrible shame that no one (Japanese, that is) has the guts to go against the "group" and point it out.

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Yes, people here tend to get easily "blinded & hoodwinked" by "names"... and even the so called & supposedly different "designer mansions" i have looked at when seeking a room with a bit of creativity here are well, in reality, no more than the standard rectangular room with almost zero (original design or interesting thought on how to add a bit of style or flair put into them), and thus just a trendy marketing label! - anyway - all rooms/mansions need to be "designed", so why call it a designer mansion anyway?... my childhood "cubby-houses" were more imaginative than almost anything i see here!

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Architecture here is a mess.

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Ill take your Insight and raise you a Dogs and Demons by Alex Kerr ;)

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yes, the chapter in Dogs and Demons on Japanese architecture was interesting. I must say I thought his description and criticism of the new Kyoto Station was a little over the top until I saw the actual monstrosity - unbelievable!!!... I remember the old Kyoto station 25 years ago - while nothing to boast about it was far more restrained than the current abomination...

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Modern Japanese architecture is not really so bad, but the fact that Japanese do not maintain or clean or repaint anything makes it look worse. I see so many new buildings filthy and rusty within 10 years that I decided not to buy a mansion...it would just fall apart under me. I built a house that I maintain and repair.

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As an amateur observer, I think J-architecture makes you feel lonely. I never felt comfortable inside some buildings, museums for instance, which is a place you are supposed to be enjoying your free time. The ultra-modern thing can have adverse effects.

I think Prince Charles is right when slams modern architects in England, organic buildings are more comfortable, you feel relaxed and yourself. While modern glass-boxes make you feel anxious, out of place.

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"real" Japanese architecture has to be some of the ugliest in the world.Council flats and schools look like prisons,everything rusting and aging in 5 years...the seaside is the worst perhaps.

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Architecture is mostly horrible, they just have no clue about how to use their traditions in their advantage. Just put concrete until you fill up the empty space..

I think imagination and a technical degree are not compatible in Japan.


Ando is one of the gratest because of that. He took what he had to make his buildings, and it's concrete because is the only material japanese seem to have these days.

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Personally, I think Japanese architects have done some of the world's best work with concrete (and also some of the worst...). Look at Tange's Catholic cathedral in Bunkyo-ku (I think...), or the Supreme Court building, which looks every bit like what it is, and--to me, at least--what a Supreme Court building should look like. I was in Kyoto last week for the first time in many years, and while I was appalled by the edifice that is the "new" Kyoto station, I was also inspired by the 43-year-old, and meticulously maintained, magnificent work that is the Takaragaike International Conference Center, a design that enables concrete to envelop and soar (my only complaint was the knobbly interior walls which make it uncomfortable to lean one's head back when resting between sessions...).

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I have to agree with most that most of the architects in Japan are very talented. And I am referring to not the public buildings, but more the private housing like mansions or just houses. For the amount of space that is given to these individuals to work with, they can make the most of it.

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Are you saying he's great because he uses the main available material, concrete? Using concrete can be good or bad. In Ando's case, it's invariably bad-ugly and ill-conceived is the rule for him.

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Ando's works look same for me. His stereotyped novelty is hackneyed.

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Personally, I love the Kyoto station. Can't really remember the old one. Yes, there are many fascinating buildings in Tokyo, but they stand out from the incredible amount of ungodly drek. Apartment buildings that look like prisons...and my own apt isn't too shabby but there is no way to hang anything on the wall (paper covered), no way to keep the floor clean (weirdo foam covered with plastic fake wood), and not even a bar of wood around the top to hang anything from. Ah well. Nice view though and a cool neighborhood. I'll live.

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