Saturday, March 17, 2012

Japanese Minimalism 101

Contemplations on the understated elegance of Japanese design.

form kouichi kimura architects gable house 2
Kouichi Kimura Architects, Gable House (Photo: Flora。T)

By guest blogger Neil Rosario.

One would tend to associate aspects of minimalism, whether in painting, sculpture or architecture, with a rejection of emotionalism similar, for example, to Abstract Expressionism. Minimalism’s reduction to pure form and the object’s austere relation to space and to perception, precludes all allusion, except perhaps to that of the thing itself, thus underscoring the tension between the literal object and the object as means of transcendence.

As of late, I’ve been fixated on a handful of Japanese architects, such Shinuchi Ogawa, Suppose Design Office, Kouichi Kimura, Apollo Architects, and Baqueratta, whose current and somewhat prodigious residential output appear to share a unified, unadorned elegance, with spare, well thought out interiors that are certainly not simplistic and certainly beyond empty.

form kouichi kimura architects gable house(Photo: Flora。T)Through the organization of clean lines, the use of repetition, floating planes, recessed areas, framing, the interplay of space and light both natural and artificial, the interplay of inside and outside, the confluence of all these elements in the designs of these architects offer residences that are as refined as they are meditative. At the expense of sounding too grandiose, I would venture that perhaps at their best, these residences, offered as urban respites amidst a tangle of power-lines and tightly packed housing, may hint towards what could be considered the margins between the essential and the sublime.

The exteriors of most residences in this design category are conspicuous by their singularity of form, often a monochromatic square or rectangle. Perhaps what's most calming is that the interior layouts oftentimes are suggestive of a return to nature through the use of natural wood, stone, glass and steel and the blending of inside and outside.

Strangely, even more beguiling are the glimpses of pathos along the edges of these designs, with the few images of people that are captured appearing as specters. A child on a swing appears as if a memory, bringing a simple, quiet warmth that is at heart of much of the Japanese minimalist designs.

Links to live by:

Apollo Architects and Associates
Suppose Design Office
Shinichi Ogawa
Kouichi Kimura

Also, see here to read about Apollo Architects newest abode. And here to view the influence of Apollo taking shape globally.

Neil Rosario is an outspoken voice in the design world, particularly in Chicago's modern style circles. This is his first piece for Designer in Exile. But his true legacy is architect of Chicago's National Trust, a creative group that featured contributions from someone recognizable to this blog. The spirit of those projects lasted intermittently for over a decade with various sponsors, of which most noted was Thrill Jockey Records.


A Visual Guide to a Better World

Interested in leveraging your creative talents to promote fairness, ethics, and the good of humanity? Occupy Design is a consortium of like-minded design professionals who are contributing a visual lexicon of symbols, emblems, and posters to the Creative Commons that can be utilized for public events and online communication. The project is preceded by another similar Creative Commons design initiative set forth by The Noun Project.

Image representing GOOD as depicted in CrunchBaseImage via CrunchBase
Good Magazine
Good Magazine helped foster the project fairly recently by running a poster design competition titled The Good + Occupy Design Challenge. The winning designer, who showcased a minimally styled citizen journalist theme titled "The Whole World is Watching," received $750 and a write up in the magazine's feature pages. The results can be seen here.

In all, Occupy Design seems to have brought about a variety of useful and mufti-functional tools for change, and the designs are well executed and compelling. In fact, I like the project so much, I'm not just a fan, I'm also a member.


Blogger's Note:

Thanks to those who contributed while I've been focused on special assignments. That said, I'm geared up for a plethora of exciting new writings, apps, and projects for the coming spring. Stay tuned. --D.A. DeMers.
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  1. Japanese minimalism's usage of space is key I suppose. Is this because most of the people in Japan live so close to one another?

  2. I find this combination of cold white space with natural wood very interesting. to the question above, as far as I know origins of minimalism are in Japanese culture, but to my best knowledge it is connected with their philosophy rather than the dense population.

  3. I wouldn't discount the notion that population and "housing" density are taken into consideration when designing these spaces that are predominantly in or around the Tokyo. Living in a city myself, I would certainly find respite in a space that is spare.

  4. I was recently at the Bauhaus Archive in Berlin and their featured exhibit was a series of photos taken by Ishimoto Yasuhiro of the Katsura Imperial Villa. The photographs were breathtaking. The book collecting those photographs was put together by Walter Gropius. There was a single exterior platform designed for meditation and in an ideal position for viewing the moon. The book itself had a single circle on the cover referencing that home's focal point. If you get a chance to view the home and particularly those photos, I highly recommend it.

  5. Thanks for the reference Liz. The photos are indeed amazing. I look forward to finding out more about him (RIP). It's interesting that Harry Callahan was his instructor. The influence is noticeable.