Saturday, April 1, 2023

Architecture in Japan: Weil am Rhein. After Tokyo was rescued from the demolition frenzy

IT is a landmark in post-war architecture in Japan: the Umbrella House, designed by Japanese architect Kazuo Shinohara in 1961. It completely reinterpreted the traditional single-family type that still characterizes the presence of Japanese mega-cities today. The Umbrella House’s wood-frame structure of cedar, pine and Douglas fir has a pyramidal roof as found only in Buddhist temples in Japan. After studying mathematics, Shinohara decided to study architecture while visiting the Horyuji temples in Nara. For the umbrella house, he used simple and inexpensive materials like cement fiber board, rice straw mats and wood. The small Tokyo residential building was at the center of architectural discourse in 1960s Japan: it was seen as a constructed critique of both Western functionalism and Japanese metabolism. It was the starting point of Shinohara’s career as Japan’s most influential architect and theorist of his generation.

When the Umbrella House was being demolished to make way for an urban freeway, architect Kazuyo Sejima learned of the derelict plan and contacted Rolf Fehlbaum, owner of furniture manufacturer Vitra, known for his interest in architecture and conservation. goes. Fehlbaum did not hesitate and demolished the house in Tokyo-Nerima and rebuilt it on the site of his Vitra campus in Weil am Rhein. In doing so, he saved a landmark of modern architecture. It is no coincidence that the rescue was necessary: ​​because monument protection does not work in Japan, the country is currently losing some of its best modern buildings, such as the Nakagin Capsule Tower (FAZ of March 24).

Creating Places That Attract People

Shinohara, born in 1925, criticized functional determination in his treatise A House is a Work of Art. The disciplined geometry makes the Umbrella House an abstract traditional minka house.

Purism: Inside The Umbrella House.

Purism: Inside the Umbrella House.

Image: Vitra Campus

The pillars of the seven-by-seven-metre house are slightly off-center, while the four main rooms – the hiroma (living room), eat-in kitchen, bathroom and bedroom (a tatami room with fifteen half-sized mats) – are arranged in A pinwheel pattern. The high and low tatami room can be separated from the living room by five sliding fusuma doors with prints by artist Setsu Asakura. From the inside, the ceiling beams are reminiscent of the struts of an oiled paper screen. However, the pillar does not support the roof, but instead supports the cross-shaped beams at their intersection. In this respect, the term umbrella house is misleading. The visible roof structure extends up to four meters high. A staircase leads to a half-height storage space above the tatami room.

Shinohara’s house combined modern austerity with traditional Japanese architectural forms to create a pure, poetic structure of modest scale but great design ambition. It was the smallest house designed by the architect. For Shinohara, it was not just about creating living spaces as a social goal, but about creating spaces that attracted people. “Without a state of the art work, a house has no right to exist,” he said.

The Umbrella House was one of the last examples of Shinohara’s pioneer houses in Japan. The furniture was designed by Shinohara in collaboration with Katsuhiko Shiraashi. The Umbrella House, thanks to Rolf Fehlbaum, finally gets Shinohara’s attention to the west. The themes of wooden construction and small houses, but the combination of tradition and modernity and the non-determinism of the spaces are still highly relevant in the German provinces as well as in the larger cities, even sixty years after the house was completed. Of world.

Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Desk
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