Letter from Japan: we chart the nation’s new architecture projects
The ’smallness’ defining many a contemporary Japanese building might overseas be a much-loved characteristic of the country’s architecture; it is often however the result of necessity and circumstances, rather than choice, for many Japanese architects.
Because of their scale, resources and years of experience, it is perhaps inevitable that large construction firms are often the ones benefiting from the bigger national projects in the country, making larger commissions less common for the small boutique studios. And with few open competitions in the country, the bread-and-butter of the independent architect depends very much on slightly smaller private commissions such as regional municipality work, retail, hospitality, interiors and of course single-family houses (which more often than not, have to be, because of the major cities’ density, small-scale).
At the same time, the aftermath of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in 2011 incited a wealth of new proposals from architects eager to contribute to society on a larger scale. Not all efforts have resulted in a large-scale public commission, and many of those who felt obliged to help in the country’s reconstruction have put their efforts back into private commissions.
From the country’s strengthened architectural enthusiasm, a number of new projects have been emerging across Japan, managing to not merely fulfil their brief, but brighten up their immediate environment. A new generation of smaller and medium scale high profile buildings (take for example, Kengo Kuma’s research building for the University of Tokyo) and public spaces (such as the Roof and Mushrooms pavilion in Kyoto by Ryue Nishizawa and Nendo) are being born all around the country.
Here, we present a few examples of the most recent contemporary Japanese architecture.