Evolution And Influences On Western Architecture Cultural Studies Essay

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It is my assertion that traditional Japanese architecture, to a degree, influenced the elements of various architectural movements of the 20th century. I have decided to undertake this research in other to fully characterize the nature and extent of this influence. In so doing I wish to uncover the underlining characteristics that illustrate similarities between the subject architectural movements in western architecture and traditional Japanese architecture.

The first major challenge which I face in successfully achieving my goal is deciding which aspects of Japanese architecture and which western movements to focus on.

This paper reports on my investigation and research of the influence of traditional Japanese architecture on the Bauhaus, the De Stijl, and the Arts and Crafts Movements

A study of the peculiarities of three broad categories of architectural typology in Japanese architecture is necessary before I can successfully delve into analyzing their impacts on foreign movements. The three categories studied are: - Religious buildings, specifically, Japanese temples, Military Buildings, specifically, castles and fortresses, and Domestic Architecture with a focus on Japanese interiors.

Understanding the Architecture of Japan

In studying the various typologies and individual exemplars of Japanese architecture, I am struck by the extremes and ironies that characterize the country's approach to construction.

Differences in size within a particular building type provide the first example of such extremes. From the Great Buddha hall in Todai'iji Temple, known as the largest wooden structure in the world, to the Kasuga Shrine of the Fujiwara family, which is two meters wide by three meters deep, we see both extremes of the size scale. The Imperial Palace complex of the Heijo Capital contained over five hundred buildings while the Konnichian Teahouse is large enough, in plan, to only hold about two tatami mats. Gardens provide additional evidence of the variability in size and scale within typologies. There are enclosed courtyards in contrast to expansive parks which have a boundless characteristic due to the strategic absorption of distant relief features such as hills and water falls into site schemes.

The ironies in Japanese architecture are further demonstrated when investigating the attitudes towards surfaces. Simplicity and understatement, emphasized through a strict aversion to adornment, is contradicted by the polychromic and sculptural elements that are applied to every available surface. This is obvious when comparing the Sukiya style to the Toshogu shrine and the Golden Hall of Chusonji.

Plan layouts present a final study area to demonstrate the dichotomy which is ever present in Japanese architecture. Some buildings plans possess extreme while others have a random layout. This dichotomy, like the others discussed prior, reaches across typologies also. The Asukadera temple is laid out in complete bilateral symmetry while the mountain temples of Esoteric Buddhist monks seem to be dictated by the organic and incidental nature of the terrain. Residential plans also posses symmetric attributes however contrasting layouts are seen in some of the sprawling estates of the samurai class.

How then can Japanese architecture be defined if one is constantly faced with these opposing attributes even within similar building functions? The one recurring characteristic which has remained oblivious to the lines drawn by function, organization, age and historical development has been materiality. Wood emerged as the primary choice of building material in Japan through the centuries. Other materials such as paper, straws, reeds, and clay are used for secondary building components such as partitions, floor coverings, walls, and roofing.

The method of construction is another characteristic of Japanese structures that cuts across typologies; the post and lintel system. This construction approach allows for the use of non-load bearing walls and had a direct influence on the emergence of the Japanese paper screen system. Another consequence of this construction method and material choice is the adherence to mostly rectilinear forms in Japanese architecture.

A final attribute of Japanese architecture worth mentioning is the transformational qualities of the spaces within buildings. This has been described from one perspective as a "fluidity of interior partitioning", however this can be expanded to include a fluidity between interior and exterior spaces. The seamlessness of transition between interior spaces in Japanese buildings is a direct consequence of the use of sliding screens. These screens serve to transform smaller spaces into larger rooms that can house the desired activity. Conversely, screens allow for partitioning of large rooms into smaller more private rooms when the need arises. This transformational quality is present in residences and temples where there are differing reasons for constant space adaption for multiple functions.

A key element in achieving the same fluidity between interior and exterior is the balcony or veranda. The balcony provides the connection between the exterior and the interior spaces while separating them.

Japanese Temples

Japanese temple architecture can be studied from various perspectives; in terms of Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, sacred spaces that are the primary place of worship of the two most prominent religions in Japan. A comparative look at the different styles adopted for both shrines and temples can also provide a suitable platform for studying religious architecture in Japan, while an investigation of the evolution and metamorphosis of religious architecture through the documented periods in Japanese history would provide a more chronological understanding.

This section presents an overview of the different styles used in building Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines and also gives a summary of the significant eras in Japan's history.

Buddhist Temples

There are three predominant styles of Buddhist temple construction used by the Japanese; the Asuka Style, the Great Buddha Style, and the Zen Style. There are, however, elements that are consistent with all Buddhist temples and temple complexes. They serve multiple purposes; as a primary place of worship, and as housing for monks and priests. The complexes were often built with facilities for training and studying. Individual buildings were used for different functions of temple life. A typical temple would have seven structures called the Sichido Garan:

The Butsuden - This is also known as the Kondo. It is the main hall for housing the statue of Buddha.

The Pagoda - This is also known as the Toh and is used for housing religious objects and relics.

The Daikodo - This serves as the temple lecture hall.

The Shoro or the bell tower

The Kyozo or sutra hall

The Jikido or dining hall

The Sobi - The living quarters for the priests or monks

The Asuka Style

The Asuka Style was predominantly used during the Asuka Era. The characteristics of this style include a discernable entasis or slight curvature of the columns; eaves supported by bracket arms with cloud-patterns carved into them; a sarato or thin plate between the top of the column and the main bearing block which supports the bracketing. Another identifier of the Asuka Style temples is a Buddhist swastika pattern imbedded in railing supported by diagonal struts which meet to form an inverted-V shape.

An excellent example of Asuka Style temple construction is found in the Horyuji Temple. It is Japan's oldest temple complex. The temple was formerly known as Ikaruga-dera and is located in Nara. It was built by Paekche temple architects employed by Prince Shotoku.

The four ancient buildings remaining from the Horyuji temple complex provide the majority of the information on Asuka Style temples. These buildings are the Five-storey pagoda, the Golden Hall, the Inner gate and the Corridor. The Japanese pagoda would eventually influence one of the more iconic buildings of Frank Lloyd Wright's career.

The pagoda is used to house the relics of Buddhism. Its basic form is that of a massive central column supported on a stone foundation. The pagoda was the central and most important structure in the Asuka Style temple but its role gradually diminished as the golden hall became more significant.

The Daibutsu Style

The Daibutsu or Great Buddha Style was introduced into Japan by the monk, Shunjobo Chogen who was contracted to rebuild the Todaiji temple at the end of the Heian period. Chogen used construction methods he had learned while visiting Sung China.

A primary attribute of the Daibutsu Style is the exposed structural elements due to the lack of a ceiling. The best example of the Chogen's style is the South Gate of Todaiiji temple. Its architectural elements include several supporting brackets that are attached to the columns. These brackets are held together by perpendicular ties which run continuously along the face of the structure. The style utilizes similar sized structural components and this gives rise to ease of production.

Another example of the Daibutsu Style is described below:

"One fine extant example is the Pure Land Hall of Jodoji Temple, which Chogen built in 1192. It is a square structure with three six-meter-wide bays per side and a central altar area one bay square. The Low, pyramidal roof has no curve, and the rafter ends are hidden by long fascia… which obviate the necessity of finishing each rafter-end separately and thereby increase construction efficiency. Inside, there is no ceiling, in order that the complex pattern of columns, "rainbow" beams, and struts may be displayed." [1] 

The Zen Style

The Zen Style of temple architecture was evolved through the expansion of two sects of Zen Buddhism: Rinzai and Soto. The style originated from Sung, China but had its own unique attributes. The following are basic characteristics of a Zen temple complex: a symmetrical, axial plan, a stone base upon which the halls are set, stone floors in the halls, beveled plinths supporting columns, brackets that are not restricted to coinciding with column locations but are also placed in between the columns.

The Shofukuji Jizodo is a prime example of Zen construction and detailing. It is a one storey building that has the appearance of being two-storey due to the pent roof style of the areas surrounding the central structure.

The Kenchoji temple is an example of the axial layout of the Zen style plan. Nishi and Hozumi describe it as follows:

"One enters the temple ground over an arched bridge. Then once through the Main Gate (Somon), one passes between rows of junipers that stand before the Enlightenment Gate (Sammon), which corresponds to the inner gate of other sects. To the east are bathing facilities; to the west, the latrine. Beyond is the corridor-bordered central court, planted again with junipers, with the Buddha hall at the north. To the east of the Buddha Hall is the Tochido and to the west is the Founder's Hall. Outside the central court to the east are the temple kitchens, and to the west are the Monk's Quarters. North again is the Dharma Hall, originally for lectures on doctrine. At the northern extremity of the compound is the Guest Hall…" [2] 

Shinto Shrines

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