The Western fascination with Japanese domesticity reaches its apogee with the Barbican’s newest architecture exhibition. A sizeable chunk of this architectural obsession stems from jealousy at the sheer design diversity on display, seemingly unhindered by regulations and spurred on by a very different approach to real estate, longevity, heritage and regulations.
The exhibition goes substantially further by delving deeply into the post-war history of Japanese architectural design, tracing the origins of today’s extraordinarily rich and diverse scene in the social and political upheavals that followed the Second World War. Around 200 houses are included in the show, including early work by architects like Toyo Ito, Tadao Ando and Kenzo Tange as well contemporary works that range from sleekly designed spaces to hand-built and experimental projects.
Kiko Mozuna's model of Anti-Dwelling Box, late 1970s. Photography: Keizo Kioku. Image courtesy of the collection of Norihito Nakatani
The focal point is an installation of a full-scale domestic space, a recreation of Ryue Nishizawa’s Moriyama House. Built in Tokyo in 2005 (and familiar to any followers of the country’s contemporary architecture), the Moriyama House deconstructed the domestic zone and presented it as ten individual spaces arranged around a series of courtyard gardens.
The Barbican installation is an anthropological investigation into the life of Nishizawa’s client, Yasuo Moriyama, complete with books, furniture and other belongings, alongside a specially commissioned film on Moriyama’s life. The architect and historian Terunobu Fujimori has also contributed one of his celebrated teahouse installations to the show, while the gallery lighting has been dynamically adapted to reflect a changing day to night cycle every hour. Modernism, tradition and innovation come together under one roof.