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The Japanese House: Architecture and Life after 1945

  • Art
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Snaking your way through the Barbican’s latest exhibition you will probably be met with an almost overwhelming desire to take off your shoes, so accurate is the 1:1 recreation of Ryue Nishizawa’s Moriyama House.

Brought all the way from Tokyo, it’s impressive from a purely logistical point of view – I mean, there’s an actual block of flats, along with real-life trees, in the Barbican. It’s also weirdly sympathetic to the institution’s own brutalist design – together they are awesome architecture squared. Considered to be one of the most important pieces of twenty-first century domestic architecture, the ten individual units that comprise Moriyama House – complete with bathrooms and kitchens – are filled with artefacts chosen by Yasuo Moriyama himself. There are even neat rows of shoes lined up in each space so you very much feel like a trespasser. There’s also the first-time screening of the documentary ‘Moriyama-san’,which delves into the story of the building’s eccentric resident.

There exists a constant battle between the traditional and the modern, something that’s in evidence with the work of Terunobu Fujimori, whose architecture inhabits a space somewhere between reality and magic. Commissioned especially for the exhibition, you walk into a world of pure imagination with a dreamlike garden and a full-sized tea-ceremony house that looks as though it’s fallen out of a Studio Ghibli animation. Its low doorway forces you to bow in deference to the ceremony, while an illuminated moon suspended from a basket made of ropes and ikebana (a traditional flower arrangement) seemingly growing from the floor, turn the world inside out.

Following the end of the Second World War, which left most major Japanese cities decimated, architects were faced with an urgent need for new houses. Tokyo’s response was to develop ever-more interesting architectural styles. The focus was never purely on practical concerns: they also produced some of the most ground-breaking architecture in the world, using innovative design to cope with a changing society. And this exhibition documents it in breathtaking style. Dense with videos, photography and sculpture, it is in equal measure fascinating and beautiful. You can while away many a long hour in here.

Written by
Miriam Bouteba


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