Chinese Architecture Influence Upon Western Architecture History Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

The Japanese influence upon western architecture went through a traditionalist phase during the middle years of the twentieth century. This was brought about by a renaissance of interest in Japanese building, due in part to two publications and an imported building, the appearance of which in itself was an inspiring recommendation. Both publications date from 1936. The first is a 36 page booklet with cardboard covers by Bruno Taut, a Prussian, who, throughout the 1920's, had been an engineer and designer of housing communities in Germany. In 1933 Taut went to Japan as an authority on architecture as well as industrial design. He spent some of his time examining and re-evaluating Japanese architecture, and on October 30, 1935, he revealed his conclusions in a Lecture Series on Japanese Culture sponsored by the Kokusai Bunka Shinkōkai (Society for International Cultural Relations) at the Peers' Club in Tokyo. The talk with 25 illustrations was published the next year in essay form, under the title Fundamentals of Japanese Architecture. Bruno Taut took the position that the West misled the Japanese into thinking the peak of their architectural achievement was the ornate sanctuaries at Nikko. (Stennott 2004).

In truth, he said, Nikko shows an undigested conglomeration of borrowed elements that are not Japanese by any means. Sure, simple inhabitant taste is to be found in the early Shintō shrines at Ise, in medieval Japanese farmhouses, and particularly in the Katsura Villa near Kyoto, the last of which was planned and built during the second quarter of the seventeenth century. Not like the contemporary group at Nikko, weighted down by the "ostentatious architectural conceptions of the war-lords," the Katsura articulates a freedom of design "in which harmony arises from absence of coercion," therefore becoming "a totally isolated miracle in the cultured world." The author exposes his background by labeling his favorite villa "international" and "eternal." The Katsura Villa was a return to inborn Japanese artistry, after centuries of being deceived by foreign imitations, brought about by the stabilizing force of Zen principles that eschewed irrelevant ornamentation and abnormalities of proportion. Buildings referred to in the text are signified among the plates at the back of Taut's book, and these comprise a height of the Hiunkaku, of which the staircase leading up from the lake has been compared to the suspended flight of steps at Falling Water.

The second publication of 1936 was Jirō Harada The Lesson of Japanese Architecture, issued at London and Boston. C. Geoffrey Holme, writing in the Introduction, states that the "Lesson" is proposed for the Western world, and may be "summarized in brief as standardization, diversity in unity, conventionality to a mode of living, connexion with nature, simplicity and, certainly, usefulness to purpose." Harada's text comprises three chapters, entitled, "A Short Historical Survey," "General Observations," and "The Japanese House Toda." They are escorted by seven diagrams and 158 plates. The chapter of most concern is the second, in which Harada gives the following characteristics of Japanese architecture. (Hume 1995)

Japanese buildings are built of wood, plus they are dominated by the roof, which has deep eaves; branched brackets take place on religious edifices, and the members, usually, are left unpainted. The Japanese love of nature demands the use of natural materials. Japanese taste may be summarized in the word shibumi (or shibui as we now spell it), which situates for all that is "quiet, delicate and refined . . . austerity in art without severity." Buildings in Japan are laid out in accordance with a convenient unit called the ken, a six-foot measure originally applied to the bay between building posts. Squared, it is named a tsubo. Mats (tatami) are made the length of a ken with half the width.

Timbers are finished in multiples of the ken moreover a little extra to permit for dressing. Proportions have been cautiously studied and standardized for certain visual effects. Changes in one dimension have to be accompanied by corresponding changes in all part of the building so as to avoid discord. The focus of the Japanese house is the tokonoma, or recess for the display of art objects, generally adjoined by the toko-waki (tokonoma-side) with chigai-dana (shelves on different levels) as well as small cupboards with sliding doors. The two recesses are divided by the toko-bashira, which is the most significant pillar in the house (for determining proportions) and generally this is a natural log, to some extent crooked, but highly polished. The photographs reproduced were selected with an intend to "improving living conditions," which meant making Western homes more attractive--in the way of the Japanese. In 1954 The Lesson of Japanese Architecture was brought out in a revised edition. (Hume 1995)

one more native European architect already in Japan at the time of Taut's arrival was Antonin Raymond. Born in Czechoslovakia as well as a naturalized American, Raymond had apprenticed to Frank Lloyd Wright during 1916-17, and in 1920 had followed him to the East. He remained to practice in the islands. A number of of his work there resembles that of Auguste Perret and Le Corbusier, and some particularly the smaller houses--relates to indigenous building. The weekend cottage of Shirō Akaboshi at Fujisawa, Mr. Oka's cottage in Karuizawa, and the architect's own thatched-roof summer quarters nearby at the foot of Mount Asama are typical.(Antonin Raymond, 1935). The last was a mixture of International Style plus Japanese. In the living room the ramp up to the draftsmen's dormitory along with studio was inspired by a Le Corbusier design in a South American mountain home, while the walls, ceilings and floors of the rooms were of wood, with fibre mats in the bedrooms. The summer quarters demonstrate Raymond's aim of conserving "as much as possible . . . (Japanese) mobility by using sliding partitions, windows and folding-screens." (Antonin Raymond, 1935, p.18). Antonin Raymond returned to America during the late thirties, remodeled an old stone house for a home at New Hope, Pennsylvania, and opened an office in New York. His buildings continued to be mainly wood. Raymond wrote an article on "The Spirit of Japanese Architecture," published in the December, 1953, issue of the AIA Journal. (Stennott 2004).

In 1939 the Japanese erected a building at the New York World's Fair, memorializing the 150th anniversary of the inauguration of President Washington. The fair had the biggest foreign participation of any exhibition up to this time, with 63 nations exhibiting. The Japanese pavilion, designed by S. Uchida and Y. Matsui, was a severe three-part composition in the style of a Shintō shrine, housing modern works of art, mostly paintings and silk tapestries. Compared to its predecessors neither the building nor its contents made a very profound impression, in part because of the gathering international tension. (Stennott 2004).

In 1949 the Museum of Modern Art in New York authorized the construction of a small modern house in a corner of its garden. Another was erected on the same site in 1950. Both were by American architects and were destined to serve as guides to better taste in building. The museum's third House in the Garden was Japanese. It was of the shoin-zukuri type, belonging to the 16th or 17th century, and related to the style of the first story of the Kinkaku. The insinuation of its sponsorship was clear and was conceivably the greatest tribute yet paid to Japanese domestic building for its "unique relevance to modern Western architecture." The Japanese Exhibition House was opened for examination on June 20, 1954. It was the design of Junzō Yoshimura, who, with Tansai Sano, as well planned the gardened setting, the chief builder being Heizaemon Itō. The house was presented by the America-Japan Society of Tokyo, for the people of Japan, and backed by private citizens in Japan and the United States. Made in Nagoya in 1953, it was shipped to America in 736 crates, plus lanterns, fences, stones and coarse white sand for the garden. The building was inspired by the Kyaku-den ( ca. 1601) of the Kōjō-in at the Onjō-ji in the city of Otsu. (Tetsurō Yoshida, 1955)

The main part of the Japanese Exhibition House is L-shaped and surrounded by a platform, with a porch across the front and right flank, and a projection at the south end of the front constituting a deeper garden vestibule. The plan is expanded on a six-foot-six-inch ken, or module, from post center to post center. The light appearance of the building is due to the scarcity of upright supports at seemingly strategic points, such as the angle of the front porch, with some of the overhead elements suspended from above. The irimoya roof is covered with hinoki (Japanese cypress) bark shingles. The family entrance is on the south side. One comes first into a transverse gallery of seven tatami. A ten-mat room opens from the gallery, and beyond this is the principal room of fifteen mats. This room contains the shoin, or writing alcove, that characterizes this kind of house. (Cavendish 2007).

A chigai-dana is next to it, and on the adjoining wall is the long tokonoma. The backgrounds of the tokonoma and fusuma have landscapes painted in sumi technique by Kaii Higashiyama. A bamboo design embellishes the doors in the second room; and above them the open ramma, in this instance a grille of delicate vertical strips of wood, permits the circulation of air from one room to the other. A narrow storage space extends across the rear of the main house. Kitchen and service rooms are in a wing back of the family entrance. A separate pavilion containing a tea-ceremony room and preparation room is connected to the house proper by a passerelle, and on the opposite side are the bathing facilities. The passerelle bridges a stream originating in the rear court, which skirts the right flank of the house and garden vestibule. The many visitors to the Japanese Exhibition House were given paper slippers upon checking their shoes before entering. The building attracted so much attention that it was kept on display a second year, after which it was removed to Philadelphia and reassembled on the site of the Temple Gate in Fairmount Park. (Arthur Drexler, 1955)

The influence of the Museum of Modern Art exhibit, like that of its ancestor the Japanese Dwelling at the Philadelphia Centennial of 1876, tended to be felt in vacation houses, especially those overlooking water. The range of influence of the later example was much wider because of the growth of the country and improved facilities in communication and transportation. A building that succeeded in capturing the spirit of the original was a summer retreat at Holland, Michigan, on the east side of Lake Michigan. It was built in 1956 by Obryon and Knapp for Hollis M. Baker, Jr. (Cavendish 2007).

The plan of the cottage is an irregular U-shape, with the master bedroom suite in the shorter stem, two additional chambers along the base, and the living-dining room, kitchen and maid's room in the large south wing. The entire lake side of the house has sliding doors between posts. They are mostly of clear glass in the living dining room, whereas elsewhere rice paper is applied to the inner side of the glass to simulate shōji. Much of the wood for the interior was imported from Japan, the ceiling of the main room being of sugi (cryptomeria), and the exposed posts and beams of hinoki (cypress). The rooms have matting on the floors and are furnished with modern, low, Chinese-style Baker pieces and some authentic Japanese tansu (chests of drawers). This was a period of intense imitation of both Chinese and Japanese in interior decoration. (Cavendish 2007).

In the Catskills--a region already primed for acceptance of the Japanese style--the Japanese Exhibition House made an impress upon a group of lodges. At Ramapo Pass, twenty-seven miles north of New York City, the coming together of sixteen lanes of major highways suggested to entrepreneur Robert Schwartz an excellent place for a motel. The roads monopolize the level ground, so Schwartz turned his thoughts to building the caravanserai on a hill, having seen inns perched on such promontories in Japan. (Checkland 2003).

Robert Schwartz got an elevated site of fifty acres as well as secured the services of Japanophile Harwell Hamilton Harris to design guest units, and of Junzō Yoshimura, at the time engaged on the house at the museum, for an overall plan. Yoshimura studied the problem and decided to treat the hill and valley below as a unit, tied together by a winding driveway on the valley side, rather than at the back, where a more natural roadbed exists. The guest houses were placed around the outer side of a contour drive that follows the crest of the hill, well above the din of highway traffic, where there are vistas across the surrounding countryside, including glimpses of the skyscrapers of Manhattan on clear days. The buildings are cantilevered out on thick laminated wooden beams supported on four-inch steel posts sunk into the rock core of the mountain, and television antennas are tucked out of sight under the structures. Walls are of Douglas fir and roofs are sprinkled with white marble chips from Bolivia. Guest units are connected by roofed-over walks leading to the apex of the layout, a two-storied restaurant planned by Yoshimura. It embraces a pool on the high or west front, and the east side is built over the hillside on a series of supports suggesting the seventeenth-century main hall of the Kiyomizu Temple on Higashiyama near Kyoto. (Checkland 2003).

Even a brief sketch, managing merely a few key examples of modern buildings in America influenced by Japan, could not be measured sufficient without mention of the features of the skyscraper that are related to Far Eastern architecture somewhat than traditional Western architecture. In doing so one runs the risk of articulating the obvious, although be that as it may, as a minimum a simple analysis seems advisable.

Firstly, a skyscraper does not have weight-bearing walls, for it is supported by an internal skeletal system of standardized units. Secondly it does not have everlasting partitions shutting off one area from another, with the exception, certainly, of utilities and conveniences clustered around elevator shafts at its core.

The usable space is kept flexible for whatever needs may arise, and these vary from one floor level to the next, the tall building being the supreme example of planning from the inside out. Contemporary skyscrapers are without any feeling of massiveness but seem to remain suspended in air. Functioning elements combine into a design needing no external ornamentation. By 1950 their "new look" was determined by the glass wall, which meant the greatest possible sheathing of glass and the least amount of interruption by supporting armature. The idea is Gothic, but as employed the flat planes of towering office buildings acquire the appearance of much-enlarged shōji. Wanting a better name, perhaps this phase could be referred to as the shōji-manner. (Hume 1995).

The apparent fragility of Japanese buildings was eschew in the West after World War I for the reason that man's insecurity at that time demanded something more firm and solid in appearance. The International Style that arose in Europe in answer to this feeling resorted to square-angled, blocky forms in concrete with steel supports that fulfilled the fundamental requirements of housing, although little more than that. The priority given to the plan in building design, which Wright referred to as organic architecture, relates to an initiative expressed 2,500 years ago by Lao Tze in China, and the austerity of functionalism keys in with the Japanese Zen principle of eliminating the non-essential, in design as in other departments of life. Applied to architecture, simplification can turn out to be cold and forbidding unless tempered by an innate artistry on the part of the builder. American architects tended to personalize it. Frank Lloyd Wright's versions of the 1930's were organic as well as romantic. (Checkland 2003).

Philip Johnson's of the 1940's were restrained and classic intrinsically. Thus far both were abstractions of Japanese prototypes. A literal interval of Japanese architecture was launched in the mid 1950's following the erection of the Japanese Exhibition House in the garden of the Museum of Modern Art. Like the Japanese Dwelling at the Philadelphia fair it begot offspring on shore and hill; and after its hour of glory in New York the Exhibition House settled permanently in Fairmount Park.