In Depth

Life after 1945: The Japanese House at the Barbican

A new exhibition on Japan's creative response to its post-war housing crisis shows how traditional elements continue to play a role

There are few societies where housing is not a problem. In Japan, the devastation of its cities during World War II spawned some of the most ingenious and forward-thinking solutions to this. Now a new exhibition at the Barbican traces the evolution of its houses from the post-war era to the present day, together with the architects that have became leading forces in the contemporary scene.

Placing developments in the context of the shifts seen in the country's economy, urban landscape and family structure, The Japanese House brings together more than 200 works, from rarely seen architectural models and drawings to photography and film, to provide an intriguing insight into its development.

In no place is this clearer to see than in Tokyo, where pollution and overpopulation have necessitated a creative rethinking of the family home. The Japanese House follows the work of pioneers such as Kenzo Tange and Seiichi Shirai, who fused the traditional and modern, the designers of the 1970s, whose enclosed structures shielded families from the surrounding environment, and those of the 1980s, when new technologies paved the way for futuristic, technical and lightweight buildings.

Contemporary architecture will be brought to life with an ambitious installation which sees Pritzker prize-winning architect Ryue Nishizawa recreate his acclaimed Moriyama House as a life-sized model. Replicas of the ten original individual blocks separated by a garden will allow visitors to look around the fully furnished units.

Equally ambitious is a new commission from Terunobu Fujimori, renowned for his eccentric, boundary-pushing creations. Teahouses play an important part in his work – as well as Japanese culture itself – and he has created his largest ever structure for the exhibition. A counterpoint to the minimalist Moriyama House, it draws on the fantastical and handmade elements of traditional Japanese architecture and places them in a modern context, featuring handcharred timber to clad the outside.

The Japanese House: Architecture and Life after 1945 is at the Barbican Centre from 23 March to 25 June, tickets £14.50; barbican.org.uk

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