There is a new architectural exhibition which is like a world within a world. Inside the brutalist structure of the Barbican, an entire house has been built in a polar opposite style. The huge, ambitious show also features drawings, models, photographs and films, which embody homes and architecture in Japan during the post-war period.
Over 40 architects have lent some aspect of their ingenious, often staggeringly beautiful work to the gallery. At its centre is a house and garden by the acclaimed Ryue Nishizawa. You can walk around the reconstruction, which is complete with furniture, books and CDs, and get a feeling of what it would be like to live there.
The living space is pleasingly angular and minimal, with box shaped rooms and white walls. It’s like a deconstruction of a house, containing only the necessary parts, but still manages to be an aesthetic delight.
The garden is rooted in fantasy. You half expect to find fairies at the end of it. Toadstool-like seats and a raised, striped tea house conspire to create an environment which feels like something from Alice in Wonderland. An enchanting anime film is projected onto a wall, the magic of which chimes well with the atmosphere created by Nishizawa.
The immersive and transportive environment is made even more so by lighting which mimics dawn to dusk. The idea is to show visitors how the buildings would look at different times of day. Tiny models give you a better feeling for the grand designs as a whole, and their minimalism and elegance is even more stark when scaled down.
A strange video explores the lives of the people within the houses. A family sit down at a dinner table, arguing and throwing food. Before you know it the situation has escalated into violence and the father / husband of the clan has killed everyone. It’s a shocking and confusing scenario, possibly more suited to a Japanese audience. Elsewhere, Kazumasa Yamashita has deliberately masterminded a house that looks like a face – daft, yes, but also surprisingly attractive and somewhere you might like to live.
As a whole, the exhibition flows nicely. You move between luscious plant life and man made fittings with ease. Putting it all together must have been a mammoth task, not least because of the sheer number of objects. A lot of thought clearly went into the arrangement and presentation of each subsection and the pieces of work within them.
The Japanese House is a highly ambitious project, flawlessly realised. From the miniature mock ups, through the arty photos, to the constructions themselves, we’re all fascinated by what’s behind closed doors.