Japanese Architecture by Ar. Ranjani Ganesan

Ar. Yasuyuki Sakurai (Yasu) of TAICO Limited with Shilpa Architects design team
Ar. Yasuyuki Sakurai (Yasu) of TAICO Limited with Shilpa Architects design team

A few weeks ago, Ar. Yasuyuki Sakurai (Yasu) of TAICO Limited from Japan visited Chennai and presented to us the traditional housing styles and some of his architectural work. The presentation began with the climatic & geographic conditions of Japan which he explained in detail. He explained to us that the climate in Japan was hot and humid during summer and extremely cold during winter. The country was also prone to earthquakes which can be experienced multiple times in a single year.  He also brought to our knowledge that two thirds of Japan’s land is covered with mountains of which 50 percent of the area is used for artificial cedar forest for commercial purpose. This wood is majorly used for construction purpose which is antithetical to Indian laws where forest preservation acts do not allow for large scale commercial logging.

Ar. Yasu then enlightened us with the Architectural history of Japan. He explained that Japan has traditionally been typified by wooden structures which ar elevated slightly off the ground. In order to avoid moisture from the ground; the floor is elevated several tens of centimeters and is laid across horizontal wooden floor beams with tiled or thatched roofs. Sliding doors were used in place of walls, allowing the internal configuration of a space to be customized to different occasions. Another way to connect rooms in Japanese interiors is through sliding panels made of wood and paper, like the shoji screens, or cloth.

Ar.Yasu also explained that People traditionally sat on cushions or otherwise on the floor and chairs and high tables were not widely used. However, Japan has incorporated much of Western Architecture and concepts into construction and design, and is today a leader in cutting-edge architectural design and technology. He then shared a video clip of manufacturing processes of how the wooden frames and other joinery elements are made in the factory and only assembling and installation is undertaken on site. It took only 7 days for a small house to be assembled on the site once the frames are manufactured.

He showed us one of his projects where he renovated an old Japanese house while the residents still resided in the house during renovation. He explained how he merged the antique look of the house with contemporary yet traditional styles. The second project was a residence for a bike collector who wanted the bikes to be displayed inside the house. The living area was designed in such a way that the bikes were in a courtyard like space and could be viewed while he sat on the couch. The interior looked more sleek and contemporary with traditional Japanese planning. The Exterior was decorated with dark wood panels that gave the house a contemporary feel with elegant aesthetics.

He presented to us an example of Government project which was an experimental development of a group of villas. In these houses, the roof is placed with vents such that heat inside the structure comes down drastically. The Roof structure is a composition of Sheathing Roof board with House wrapping sheet and Insulation layer and Silver Deposition film. Above the film of the roof there is a vent space of about 3” and over that is the Sheathing Roof Board with Asphalt Roofing with Red tiles on top. The Walls panels also have vent space in the middle. The interior side of the wall consists of the wrapping sheet and cedar board and a vent space in the middle. The exterior side consists of a layer of Moisture permeability and exterior Finish. The windows of the house were unique as they consisted of three layers. The first interior layer was of mosquito mesh such that when used the outside temperature would enter the house while protecting the house from insects. The second layer was a glass panel which if used would allow the exterior light to enter the house and the occupants can have a good view of the exterior garden while the temperature inside the house can be maintained as required and would not have to be influenced by the exterior climatic conditions. The third layer was the hard wood panel which is mostly used during hurricane and storms such that the house is completely shut close thereby stopping any wind or rain water to enter the house. The house was made of screens such that the screens can be moved and the rooms can be modified as required.

Mr.Yasu’s presentation brought to light different materials, architectural and structural styles that can be used to retain the aesthetics and traditional ways of building while catering to the climatic and natural conditions of the region. It will now be an exciting opportunity to think in these lines, use natural materials, traditional ideas and create something unique and sustainable for the Indian environment.

Ar. Ranjani Ganesan
Project Architect at Shilpa Architects Planners Designers Pvt. Ltd.