Japan and the west have a long history trading ideas about architecture, building and construction. Most famously, luminary Frank Lloyd Wright, was a big fan.
He incorporated Japanese ideas into many of the building he designed. In his autobiography he wrote:
“I found that Japanese art and
architecture really did have organic character. Their art was nearer to the earth
and a more indigenous product of native conditions of life and work, therefore
more nearly modern as I saw it, than any European civilization alive or dead.”
We looked for a list of Japanese designed buildings outside of Japan, but couldn’t find one. So we made one. We counted up the top 10 Japanese Architects that appear in a Google search and checked where they have popped up shelter of one kind or another. There’s a lot in the U.S., but there’s more in Europe. If you put them on graph, they look like this:
In Europe, as far back as the early to mid 1800s, architects such as Augustus Pugin in Britain, most famous for designing the tower of Big Ben, were starting to feel like the Industrial Revolution may be pumping out the products but not the picture-pretty buildings. They started looking to far away times and places for inspiration. Think Gothic architecture rivalism. But also think far-eastern exoticism. In 1862, less than 10 years after Commodore Perry had sailed his Black Ship into Kanagawa to forciblly open Japan to trade, after a couple hundred years of laying low, British architect Edwin Godin designed his house Japanese style. That’s moving with the times.
In the 1880s, things got more wiggy in Belgium. Art Nouveau came into being, with it’s striking geometric patterning owing no small debt Japanese aesthetics.
Art Nouveau, in turn, influenced the Deutsche Werkbund, a German arts-and-crafts movement, which in turn influenced architects such as Walter Gropius, a key leader of the Bauhaus movement. Gropius said of Japanese architecture:
“the restrained order of the standardized building parts appealed to me as the hallmark of a deeply rooted culture adaptable to any new development”
Europe, and in particular France’s, deep infatuation with Japanese culture goes back more than 150 years in the long tradition of Japonism.
Across the skyline of Europe, we can see that the spirit of Japonism lives on in the buildings and public institutions. Italy, France, Spain and Germany in particular have significant numbers of structures that have been designed by Japanese architects. Japanese construction is renowned for it’s attention detail, as can be seen in such smaller constructions as their intricate puzzle boxes.
In collaboration with BusinessGetaway, we’ve put together a list of 10 examples of amazing buildings in Europe designed by Japanese architects.
Palau Sant Jordi Olympic sporting arena – Arata isozaki, 1990
Looking perhaps like a structure out of a Star Wars city scape, this ancient-yet-space-age building is a
Torres de Toyo Ito & Torre Realia BCN – Toyo Ito
- Clearly referencing eachother from a colour perspective, while differing dramatically in form, these two towers appear less as twins than as 2nd cousins hovering awkwardly at a family reunion. There is a grand vision behind the rubbery looking hotel and the stern looking office complex couple. According to interempress.net The towers “are a version of the two Venetian towers that frame the access to the historic grounds of the Fira of Barcelona’s Plaça Espanya”.
Unesco Meditation Space – Tadao Ando, 1991
- In many ways this structure, Commissioned by UNESCO in celebration of their 50th anniversary, hovers on knife edge between tranquility and industrial-age terror. The structure includes granite previously contaminated by radiation in the atom bombing of Hiroshima. The kind of meditation you do here isn’t the “close your eyes and think of the ocean” variety.
La Defense – Kurokawa Kisho, 1992
- Kurokawa’s La Defense building is a reference to a reference. Amongst other things, it is a nod to the Grande Arche de la Defense West of Paris. The Grande Arche is, in turn, a nod to perhaps the most famous arch of all, the Arc De Triomphe. But then, the Arc De Triomphe was based on the Arch of Titus in Rome. Being meta isn’t a new thing.
And while we’re on arches, did you know that someone once flew a biplane through the Arc De Triomphe? And that it was shot on a newsreal, with people ambling about and cars going about their business in the foreground? This might be a good opportunity to catch up with the news:
Grand Ecran – Kenzo Tange, 1995
- Perhaps most famous for designing the Peace park in Hiroshima, Kenzo Tange can also design cultural institutions with more light hearted purposes. A multi-use building, the main claim to fame for the building is it’s theatre, larger than a tennis court, which for long time was the biggest in Europe, and is the largest within Paris.
La Seine Musicale- Shigeru Ban, 2017
This large squashed-egg shape music hall features a massive wall of solar panels that moves with the sun. It doesn’t get much more ambitious than that.
The architects said “The form of the solar panel is inspired by a sail, so we can compare La Seine Musicale to a sailing ship.”
Louvre Lens – SANAA, Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa
- Creating a new Louvre is a tall ask. In tackling the problem, Kazuyo Sejima nad Ryue Nishizawa chose to keep a low profile. They created a series of low buildings that are almost entirely made of glass and materials that reflect back the local environment. It is a supreme attempt at creating an invisible building.
Allianz Towers – Arata Isozaki
The idea behind the Allianz Towers was, in the words of the architects “to develop the idea of a skyscraper without a limit”. To do this they used “a modular system that can be repeated in an infinite way with any limit”. Basically the idea is to have repeated patterns that make you think the structure could go on forever.
But probably the most striking feature of the building is how thin it is compared to its height. In fact, the architects designed it so thin that they had to put reinforcing bars at the building’s base. Trying a bit too hard for the visual gimmick? You be the judge.
Langen Foundation – Tadao Ando, 2004
Marianne Langen liked Japanese art. Her collection was based around Japanese items, many of which her husband, Victor, had collected on his many business trips to the land of the rising sun. It makes sense that they chose Japanese artist Tadao Ando to design the building.
Stylistically, the building has similarities to the Louvre building above, but with a much more solid core. It is more a construction of “double skins” than a reflection of its surroundings.
Another point of interest is that the gallery is built on the site of what was a NATO rocket base. That’s Make Art not War writ large.
List of buildings European buildings designed by Japanese Architects
Arranged by country for the top ten architects appearing in a Google search
About the Writer
I’m Peter Head. I have succesfully completed the highest level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (N1). I lived in Japan for four years as a student and on working holiday. I have toured the country six times playing music and singing songs in Japanese and English.