The Japanese House

I sometimes think the British are doomed to spend the rest of eternity on the horns of a dilemma that leaves them torn between the glories of their history and a determination to be leading lights in the world of the arts and sciences. And then I remember Japan and realise our split personalities are mere child’s play by comparison with their wild swings between emperor-worship and surreal design. A brilliant exhibition at the Barbican called The Japanese House underlines this perfectly. At the heart of the show is a life-size recreation of Ryue Nishizawa’s amazing Moriyama House, a collection of cuboid living spaces, some piled up, others discrete and all linked by small gardens which spread across a plot like a micro-hamlet which both architect and client intended to echo the chaotic layout of the Tokyo suburb in which it stands. The rooms are full of eclectic collections of furniture, including wonderfully witty SANAA rabbit-ear chairs, and any number of examples of electronic music from Japanese industrial to western ambient. It’s a joy. My own favourite building, however, is Sou Fujimoto’s House NA in Tokyo, three staggered storeys which allows floors to double and treble up as chairs and tables, absolutely no internal doors, including on the loo, and external walls made entirely of glass. Bonkers – but beautiful.


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