The Japanese House: Architecture and Life after 1945 at the Barbican Art Gallery

There is a life-sized Japanese House @BarbicanCentre and you can walk through it!  It forms the central part of an exhibition on The Japanese House: Architecture and Life after 1945, on in London until 25 June 2017.  Find out more here.

The exhibition starts on the mezzanine of the 4th floor Art Gallery.  Up there is a lot of material to read and to consider about the theory of architecture, the intentions of the architects and the society in which they were (and are) working.  There are films, written interpretations, plans, architectural models and even the occasional sample of a coffee table or a wall.  All in all, you can spend hours here if you wish.  There are even bean bags into which to sink to watch the films.

I liked having the models and being able to look at them.  We’d have liked to have seen more photographs of all the buildings in situ as well to help the context.

It was interesting to have a glimpse of all the ideas that the Japanese architects had.  I’d have welcomed some other contemporary views to answer questions such as: did this make a difference to ordinary Japanese people or is it just in the esoteric world of the architects? And, do the buildings achieve what they were meant to, in the opinion of those who live or work in them?  And, were the architects doing what society needed?

On the main floor of the gallery is the Moriyama House, a full-sized recreation of a house in Tokyo.  It took me a while to realise what it was and how it related to the other exhibits, a film of Yasuo Moriyama in the original house, for example.  My conclusion is that I’d welcome a little more signage, pointing my way.  However, I concede that the information is there, in the wall panels.  It was a bit more hard work than I wanted to put in at the time.

Having said that, the experience of wandering through the rooms and being in the spaces was quite fun.  They felt welcoming and alien in almost equal parts.  It was a bit like some of the models of other houses, some of which were wall-less or had glass walls, providing no privacy, and others were completely enclosed with few windows to the outside, creating an impression of being shut in.  I came away feeling that, while I wouldn’t choose to live in one of these Japanese homes, if I ever have to live in a small space, I should like my architect and furniture supplier to be Japanese.  They know how to build small!

In the meantime, if you can, should you go to the exhibition?  If you are interested in architecture or Japan, definitely yes.  If different styles of houses interest you and you want to experience Japanese living without flying to Japan, also yes, but give yourself enough time to wander around the house and don’t be put off by the theory.

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