Suzuki Museum opened in Kanazawa
A new show explores what makes Japanese architecture unique. Pictured here, D.T. Suzuki Museum in Kanazawa by Taniguchi Yoshio (2011).
(Image credit: Kitajima Toshiharu)

Japanese architecture has never been more in vogue. Today Tadao Ando is virtually a household name and many people marvel at the quirky compact single family homes in Tokyo, which despite often having no shutters, curtains, straight – or some times indeed any – walls, constitute some of the most revered contemporary architectural gems. But what is it that makes Japanese architecture unique? The newly opened ‘Japan in Architecture – Genealogies of Its Transformation’ show at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo is trying to answer that question.

In response the curatorial team (which includes acclaimed local architect Terunobu Fujimori) has divided its thesis into nine different sections, spanning ‘Possibilities of Wood’, ‘Transcendent Aesthetics’, ‘Roofs of Tranquillity’,  ‘Crafts as Architecture’, ‘Linked Spaces’, ‘Hybrid Architecture’, ‘Forms for Living Together’, ‘Japan Discovered’ and ‘Living with Nature’. There is no strict chronological order to the more than 100 projects exhibited, and both historical examples (such as the mesmerising 1797 Aizu Sazaedo spiral staircase temple) and yet-to-be-completed ones (such as Junya Ishigami’s House and Restaurant in Yamaguchi) are represented to try and explain the lure and singularity of the country’s fascinating building designs.

Highlights include a 1/1 scale of the Japanese tea master Sen-no-Rikyu’s famed Tai-an tearoom and an immaculately made 1/3 scale model of Kenzo Tange’s private home from 1953. There is also a fast-paced multimedia installation by Seichi Saito from Rhizomatiks, exploring the ‘Power of Scale’ by reconstructing archetypal Japanese spaces using video and fibre laser technology.  

The exhibition serves as a valuable platform for debate and exploration into its subject, and while it may not entirely pin down the exact make up of Japanese architecture’s DNA, it no doubt offers some refreshing and thought provoking insights into the matter and is bound to be a hit among architecture buffs and beyond.

Main entrance at the Imperial Hotel

(Image credit: Imperial Hotel, Ltd)

LT Josai housing in Nagoya

(Image credit: Nishikawa Masao)

Optical Glass Stage

(Image credit: press)

Hoshino Resort Tomamu

(Image credit: Hoshino Resort Tomamu)

Kigumi Infinity Japan Pavilion Expo Milano by Kitagawara Atsushi

(Image credit: Ohno Shigeru)

Tai-an city dwelling from the Azuchi-Momoyama period

(Image credit: press)

Power of Scale installation

(Image credit: press)

Yusuhara Wooden Bridge Museum

(Image credit: Ota Takumi)

Main Lounge, Royal Hotel in Osaka

Main Lounge, Royal Hotel in Osaka (1973) by Isoya Yoshida.

(Image credit: Takenaka Corporation)

Kagawa Prefectural Government Hall

Kagawa Prefectural Government Hall (1959) in Kagawa by Kenzo Tange. courtesy of Kagawa Prefecture

(Image credit: Ichikawa Yasushi)

Snow at Kaiunbashi Bridge and First National Bank

'Snow at Kaiunbashi Bridge and First National Bank' by Kobayashi Kiyochika.

(Image credit: collection of the Shimizu Corporation)

’Japan in Architecture - Genealogies of Its Transformation’ is on view at the Mori Art Museum, Roppongi, Tokyo until 17 September. For more information please visit the website

Originally from Denmark, Jens H. Jensen has been calling Japan his home for almost two decades. Since 2014 he has worked with Wallpaper* as the Japan Editor. His main interests are architecture, crafts and design. Besides writing and editing, he consults numerous business in Japan and beyond and designs and build retail, residential and moving (read: vans) interiors.