The influence of Japanese culture and the aesthetic worldview of Wabi-sabi on modern architecture
Abstract: The object of the study is the influence of the national culture of Japan on the formation of modern architecture. The subject of the study is the manifestation of the interpretation of the motives of the national Japanese worldview of Wabi-Sabi in the work of modern architects. The authors consider in detail such aspects of the topic as the analysis of Japanese worldview culture, in which the concepts of aesthetic beauty of wabi and sabi, which have become inseparable over time, stand out. This multifaceted concept implies the identity of beauty and naturalness. Particular attention is paid to the perception, in some cases unconsciously, of this ideological trend by modern European and Japanese architects, who often perceived it through the interpretation of the motives and principles of Japanese architecture. A special contribution of the authors to the study of the topic is the analysis of the creativity of architects within the framework of not only the interpretation of the motives of Japanese architecture, but also the influence of one of its fundamental components — the Wabi-Sabi principle. The novelty of the research is the generalization of the creativity of both Japanese and European architects and designers, in which the influence of this trend can be traced. The main conclusions of the study are that architects and designers in their works tried to convey the close connection between nature and architecture, using natural materials in both structures and decor. That is why the Japanese Wabi-sabi worldview has brought a lot to modern architecture and design.
Keywords:architecture, wabi-sabi, Japan, worldview, design, culture, creativity, shintoism, art, minimalism
This article is automatically translated. You can find original text of the article here.
Introduction. Two opposite trends are characteristic of the modern stage of architecture development. On the one hand, it is the desire for globalization, the prerequisites for which were laid back in the time of the Great Geographical Discoveries, on the other — the integration into modern buildings of historical reminiscences, or the features of national architectural schools, most manifested during the period of acquaintance with the culture of the East . One of these manifestations was the tendency to follow the principles and aspects of Japanese culture.
In Japanese philosophy, there are various concepts and currents that have no analogues in other cultures. Many types of Japanese art over the past millennium have been influenced by Zen philosophy, one of the most important schools of Chinese and all East Asian Buddhism, the main purpose of which is to achieve enlightenment by contemplating the external and internal worlds, insight into the true nature of the mind. So for most of the history of Japan, the concepts of simplicity, cleanliness and aesthetic principles of the country's inhabitants determined the principles of shaping and space-planning solutions in architecture . Thus, the aesthetic worldview of Wabi-sabi (??) had a great influence on Western architecture and design.
The worldview of wabi-sabi. To denote aesthetic beauty in Japan, four concepts are used. Three of them — sabi (?), wabi (?), shibui (??) — originate from the traditional Japanese religion of Shintoism. The fourth — yugen (??) - is a legacy of Buddhist philosophy. Thus, philosophical and ideological principles are already at the heart of aesthetic perception, which indicates the high level and importance of culture in Japan. The term "wabi" directly denotes the beauty of everyday life, the naturalness of nature, which implies the thesis that beauty is inherent only in natural elements. However, this is not contradicted by another statement that naturalness can be enhanced by adding or emphasizing the qualities of objects, thereby contributing to the identification of their essence. One of the ways of such identification of the essence is natural aging, which is why in Japanese culture traces of age receive a special charm. This aspect is expressed in the term "sabi", which literally means rust and has the meaning of natural antiquity, the seal of time. Thus, the term "wabi-sabi" shows the identity of natural beauty and authenticity and, initially existing as separate concepts, eventually began to be used inseparably, forming a new term that later passed into the description of the aesthetic perception of the world .
The Japanese concept of wabi-sabi embodies aesthetics, characterized by the transfer of a sense of comfort and simultaneous simplicity. In architecture, as well as in interior design, this is expressed by the simplicity of natural elements and the raw texture of surfaces. Imperfection is expressed in those details that are created by nature or time: untreated rough surface, uneven edges, cracks, scuffs, rust and the natural texture of the material. The use of natural elements, neutral colors, optimal lighting planning and suitable natural building materials create an authentic, harmonious architecture with a high level of comfort that radiates well-being.
Architecture. To date, Western architects have learned to borrow some principles of Japanese aesthetics, expressing the principle of simplicity in new buildings by combining modern architecture with traditional elements, emphasizing simplicity, openness and brightness. At the same time, aesthetic perception is achieved through imitation of nature, which consists in natural orderliness, which in turn is to some extent connected with modern trends in environmental conservation and ecological construction.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the modernism movement was born, when architects and designers sought to create a new, improved society after the devastating First World War (1914-1918). This movement was founded by European architects such as Walter Gropius, Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier and others . Considering the work of Le Corbusier, one can note a certain influence of traditional Japanese houses — sukiya-zukuri (?????), despite the fact that the architect has never been to Japan and mostly traveled to Eastern Europe. Influenced by teahouses, the sukiya-zukuri style usually includes modest rooms decorated with natural materials such as wooden columns and clay plaster. The structural solutions are based on a frame system, the basis of which are columns that define the tectonic and space-planning structure of the house. The use of movable partitions allows not only to change the layout configuration, but also to change the level of natural lighting in the premises, thereby erasing the boundary between the street and the interior . Le Corbusier used similar designs in his works, creating a connection between Japanese and modernist architecture, which subsequently only continued to strengthen. In the 1930s, Japanese architects such as Junzo Sakakura and Kunio Maekawa collaborated with Le Corbusier. Thanks to their cooperation, these two directions have united even more. One of the famous projects was the Swiss Pavilion of 1932. Although it was an object of modernism, there were elements of Japanese architecture such as sliding windows and an open space bordering on nature. The progress achieved as a result of this collaboration influenced both modernism and the development of Japanese architecture — then and now.
One of those who integrated Japanese architecture into Western architecture was the American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. One of the distinctive features of Wright's work was his love of nature, which in turn reflected the close connection of his work with the principles of the Japanese worldview, primarily Wabi-sabi. Thus, the organic architecture and prairie style used by him in buildings were largely based on the interpretation of the worldview principles of Japan. This approach, which is part of the general concept of "organic architecture", was based on the principle of integrity and unity with the environment . In his works, F. L. Wright sought to change the principles of the formation of the architectural space laid down during the Renaissance, to make it continuous. There, it was proposed to replace the allocation of the architectural volumes of the building and its components from the environment, primarily natural, by subordinating the shape and layout of the building not only to the typological purpose, but also to the environmental conditions in which it is located . Thus, the "prairie houses" designed by F. L. Wright compositionally continued the natural environment surrounding them, and were not opposed to it. This was largely achieved due to open plans, the predominance of horizontal compositional divisions, large outliers of roof slopes and the active use of terraces, which was a reference to Japanese national architecture, in particular to temple architecture . Also, a sense of unity with nature was achieved through the use of raw natural materials in the decoration.
For F. L. Wright, Japanese art and architecture represented a series of case studies, and, in turn, he was influenced and inspired by them in such a way that his space was often read as Japanese, while maintaining a level of comfort for people accustomed to modern American architecture. Tadao Ando, a modern Japanese architect, stated in his autobiography: "I think Wright studied the most important aspect of architecture — the handling of space — on Japanese architecture. When I visited the "House over the Waterfall" in Pennsylvania, I found that I feel the same way about this surrounding space. But there were additional sounds of nature addressed to me."
Another famous architect inspired by the culture of Japan was Rudolf Schindler, a student of F. L. Wright. He believed in the direct relationship between the elements of the interior and exterior, which was most evident in the warm season, as in traditional Japanese architecture. An interesting example of Schindler's interpretation of the subtle philosophy of wabi-sabi was the house he designed for himself. The structural feature of the house was the enclosing structures in the form of inclined concrete slabs, combined with mahogany and glass trim. The facade facing the courtyard of the house is a fully glazed wall with sliding doors, above which two cantilevered beams support an overhanging roof, retractable lamps and movable partition screens. This constructive part of the house evokes associations with traditional Japanese architecture. The original design solution was the use of long narrow windows 7.5 cm wide. The strips of light penetrating through them, as the final touches of the artist, complete the image of the house, which has become a metaphor for unity with nature . Thus, R. Schindler was able to achieve a number of wabi-sabi principles — the use of natural naturally aging materials and the formation of a flowing internal and external space, making the building an integral part of the environment.
Design of the architectural environment. Modern interior design, characterized by minimalism and based on the traditional Japanese Zen philosophy, impresses with its simplicity and inspiration from nature. At the same time, the traditional aesthetic worldview of Wabi-Sabi emphasizes the virtues of natural beauty and the inevitability of imperfection. Since the aesthetics of wabi-sabi has a close connection with nature, natural materials such as wood, stone, concrete, ceramics, marble, glass, metal are used directly in the interiors of this style. Such interiors are characterized by restrained natural shades — neutral gray tones, smoky, beige, brown, coffee, milk, cream. Throughout the history of Japanese design, both old and modern, wood has remained the main material for creating timeless objects . At the same time, only after the passage of time and the natural interaction of wood with man and the environment, it acquires all its beauty.
However, not only Japanese culture influenced Western architecture, but Western architecture itself had a significant impact on the traditional architecture of Japan during the Meiji period (1868-1912). Under the influence of the Anglo-Saxon school, primarily the American one, by the first half of the XX century, modern Japanese architecture had developed, which organically integrated traditional philosophy into world architectural trends, thereby initiating the formation of an original national architectural school, inextricably linked with world architectural trends.Interior design in the Wabi-Sabi style is present in the works of both Japanese and Western architects and designers. For example, the works of Japanese architect Tadao Ando made of concrete are a reflection of Japanese design and Japanese culture in modern times. Ando concrete, which is often called "smooth as silk", gives the impression of both the structure and the unpainted wall surface. This is a simple design element, an element of beauty that may crack and fade over time, but at the same time will preserve the purity of materiality. And since the concrete is cast and not processed, this introduces the aesthetics of wabi-sabi into the design, where the element must appear in an untreated form. Just as wood acquires a unique patina, concrete can also age and eventually acquire a new look. Tadao Ando's unique method of using concrete has become a legacy of Japanese modernist design.
One of Tadao Ando's first projects was the Azuma Private House, which is an example of the synthesis of Japanese tradition and modernity. The building had no windows facing the street, the lighting was carried out through a small open courtyard, which is a reference to the traditional architecture of East Asia . Thus, the author made the external and internal spaces inseparable — in order to move from one room to another, it was necessary to cross the courtyard, open to atmospheric precipitation. This unusual combination is an example of what is not expected in architecture. After all, here a person is faced with weather conditions right inside the house. From here, one can further trace the close connection with nature, which represents the concept found in the aesthetics of Wabi-sabi. However, what for the Japanese architect represented a new interpretation of historical architecture, for the West was an innovation and a regional flavor that evokes associations with Asia.
Also in the works of Tadao Ando, a combination of Western architecture and the concept of a path in a Japanese tea garden is used, on which it was necessary to feel separation from "civilization" on the way to the tea house. Like tea gardens and wabi-sabi, a key component in the design of a Japanese architect tends to be juxtaposition and contrast, which is usually observed in the materials he uses. That is why his projects are often all smooth concrete structures surrounding or bordering artificial reservoirs. Nevertheless, water complements and balances artificial concrete structures and thereby creates a feeling of serenity and comfort. Thus, in the works of the author, the ancient and philosophical design technique of wabi-sabi was reflected, artfully combined with elements of modern architecture.
The Belgian designer Axel Vervordt was also attached to the Eastern philosophical traditions. The inspiration he drew from his travels in Asia remains with him to this day and is evident in many of his works. He has formed his own organic approach, characterized by a commitment to merging objects with the environment. Respect for nature, the art of simplicity and harmony, the beauty found in modest objects, and the power of silence are woven into his projects, as is his personal interpretation of Wabi-Sabi's worldview . As a result, intriguing contrasts between Asian and European styles are created.
Conclusion. Interest in Eastern philosophy and aesthetics led to the emergence of new modern trends towards minimalism and simplicity. Architects and designers tried to convey the close connection between nature and architecture in their works, using natural materials both in structures and in decor. Their main task was to create a free space that had no surplus and was cleared of everything superfluous. That is why the Japanese Wabi-sabi worldview has brought a lot to modern architecture and design. Using the trends of this worldview in modern architecture, for the most part, it is possible to exclude pretentiousness and clutter of elements, to use low-key, low-saturated colors. Priority is given to a clear organization of the space, while the chaotic layout has faded into the background. In all these features of modern architecture, Japanese simplicity and conciseness have played an integral role.
Peer reviewers' evaluations remain confidential and are not disclosed to the public. Only external reviews, authorized for publication by the article's author(s), are made public. Typically, these final reviews are conducted after the manuscript's revision. Adhering to our double-blind review policy, the reviewer's identity is kept confidential.