Modern Japanese Architecture Part 1: From Meiji Restoration to the Pacific War


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We will commence our exploration from the year 1868 when Japan emerged as a new nation. The city of Tokyo, which grew from the modest seventeenth-century town of Edo surrounding a feudal castle, adopted a more Western-style character. This transformation was accompanied by advancements in construction techniques and materials, signaling the dawn of a new era. As the twentieth century approached, a stark contrast emerged between the traditional low wooden structures of Japan and the modern buildings characterized by red brick and industrially produced materials.

We will delve into the profound process of Westernization that occurred as Japan embraced elements of European and American lifestyles. From this perspective, we will witness how architects sought their own interpretation of early twentieth-century Modernism. Initially, Japanese architects drew inspiration from the innovative and functional approaches pioneered by the Franco-Swiss architect Le Corbusier, as well as the streamlined and contemporary philosophy championed by Walter Gropius, the director of the renowned German art school, the Bauhaus. Concurrently, Japan began cultivating its own generation of architects, distinct from the traditional lineage of skilled master carpenters trained on-site.

Over the span of approximately seventy-five years, a distinct and occasionally eclectic architectural style emerged, shaped by the experiences of young Japanese architects who sought knowledge abroad. Part 1 of our course aims to discuss and showcase the origins of Modernist architecture in Japan, providing insights into its evolution throughout this significant period.

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