Culture > Exhibition review: The Japanese House: Architecture and Life after 1945

Posted on April 26, 2017

All Images by Ben Tynegate and Miles Willis / Getty Images

Joe Marshall goes through the keyhole

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.

All Images by Ben Tynegate and Miles Willis / Getty Images

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.

The Japanese House is open until 25th June at Barbican Art Gallery, Barbican Centre.

There is a program of accompanying events, including films, talks and workshops.

The exhibition also has its own shop, selling a huge variety of items by Japanese designers and architects. They are available online too.

Joe Marshall
Joe Marshall is Exposure’s Arts & Culture Editor. With his written content he endeavours to raid the full remit of arts and culture in London, if he doesn’t drown in it first. He aspires to make a career out of journalism like his heroes Tom Wolfe, Hunter S Thompson and Jon Ronson before him.

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One Response to Exhibition review: The Japanese House: Architecture and Life after 1945

  1. Shakira Dyer May 1, 2017 at 11:03 am #

    What’s behind closed doors? What does this architecture mean – especially in Japan after WW2?

    >It’s a shocking and confusing scenario, possibly more suited to a Japanese audience.
    lol – they should’ve had English subtitles.

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