Japanese Architecture in Europe

Hospitalet_de_Llobregat_
Torres De Toyo Ito, Barcelona

Introduction

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:

Frank lloyd Wright portrait

“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:

*Skip through to the bottom of the post you can see the full list of architects, countries, cities and buildings. 

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.

Geometric patterning in Gustav Klimpt art
Geometric Patterning in Kamisaka Sekka art

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.

Japanese bridge in painting of Claude Monet

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.

Spain

  • Barcelona

  • 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 

 sporting arena built for the 1992 olympics. Weighty, and vaguely militaristic in appearance, is vaguely reminiscent of a samurai helmet or armour.
Palau_Sant_Jordi Arata isozaki
  • 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”.

France

  • Paris

  • 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.
Meditation Space Tadao Ando
  • 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.
La Defence Kurokawa Kisho
Grande Arche de la Defense
Arc De Triomphe
Arch of Titus

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.
Grand Ecran - Kenzo Tange
  • 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.”

La Seine Shigeru Ban
  • 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.
Lens Louvre

Italy

  • Milan

  • 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.

Allianz Towers Arata isozaki

Germany

  • Neuss

  • 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.

Langen Foundation

List of buildings European buildings designed by Japanese Architects

Arranged by country for the top ten architects appearing in a Google search

CountryBuildingCityYearArchitect
AustraliaBond University Library / Humanities Building / Administration BuildingGold coast1989Arata Isozaki
ChinaShenzhen Cultural CenterShenzhen2007Arata Isozaki
ChinaChuo Art Academy MuseumBeijing2007Arata Isozaki
ChinaChina Wetland MuseumHangzhou2009Arata Isozaki
ChinaShanghai Sedai Himalayan Arts CenterShanghai2010Arata Isozaki
ChinaChina International Architecture and Art ExhibitionNanjing2011Arata Isozaki
ChinaShanghai Symphony Orchestra Concert HallShanghai2013Arata Isozaki
ChinaHarbin Concert HallHarbin2015Arata Isozaki
EgypNational Egyptian Museum Museum Exhibition ProjectCairo1986Arata Isozaki
GermanyBerlin Apartment HouseBerlin1986Arata Isozaki
GreeceMegalon Concert HallThessaloniki2010Arata Isozaki
ItalyTomb of Luigi NonoVenice1994Arata Isozaki
ItalyParasports OlimpicoTurin2005Arata Isozaki
ItalyCity Life Allianz TowerMilan2015Arata Isozaki
PolandKrakow Japanese Art CenterKrakov1994Arata Isozaki
QatarQatar National Convention CenterDoha2011Arata Isozaki
SpainPalau Sant JordiBarcelona1990Arata Isozaki
SpainA Coruña Museum of Human SciencesA Coruña1995Arata Isozaki
SpainParaforth Recreation FacilityParafors1996Arata Isozaki
SpainKaisha FolmeBarcelona2002Arata Isozaki
SpainIsozaki AtheaBilbao2008Arata Isozaki
United StatesHouserman showroomChicago1982Arata Isozaki
United StatesThe PalladiumNew York1985Arata Isozaki
United StatesBjorson House / StudioCalifornia1986Arata Isozaki
United StatesLos Angeles Museum of Contemporary ArtLos Angeles1986Arata Isozaki
United StatesTeam Disney BuildingFlorida1991Arata Isozaki
United StatesOhio 21st Century Science and Industry CenterOhio1999Arata Isozaki
United StatesObscure Horizon (Desert Bed)California2010Arata Isozaki
BrazilEmbassy of Japan in BrazilBrasilia1972Fumihiko Maki
CanadaIzmaili Imamat Memorial HallOntario2008Fumihiko Maki
CanadaAga Khan MuseumOntario2014Fumihiko Maki
ChinaShenzhen Maritime World Cultural Arts CenterShenzhen2017Fumihiko Maki
GermanyIsar Bureau ParkMunich1995Fumihiko Maki
GermanyMaki SolitaireDusseldorf2001Fumihiko Maki
IndiaPatna Vihar MuseumBihar2015Fumihiko Maki
MalaysiaKota Kinabalu Sports Complexmackerel1977Fumihiko Maki
NetherlandsFloating theaterGroningen1996Fumihiko Maki
PeruPeru Low-income low-rise housingLima1972Fumihiko Maki
SingaporeSingapore Science and Technology College CampusWoodland2007Fumihiko Maki
SingaporeSkyline @ Orchard BoulevardOrchard2015Fumihiko Maki
SingaporeSingapore Media CorpOne North2016Fumihiko Maki
SwitzerlandNovartis Campus Square 3Basel2009Fumihiko Maki
United StatesSt. Louis Washington University Steinberg
Hall
St. Louis, Missouri1960Fumihiko Maki
United StatesYerhabuena Park Visual Arts CenterSan Francisco1993Fumihiko Maki
United StatesYBG Arts CenterSan Francisco1994Fumihiko Maki
United StatesSt. Louis Washington University Sam Fock
scan Visual Arts Faculty
St. Louis, Missouri2007Fumihiko Maki
United StatesUniversity of Pennsylvania
Annenberg Public Policy Center
Pennsylvania2009Fumihiko Maki
United StatesMIT Media Lab New BuildingMassachusetts2009Fumihiko Maki
United StatesFour World Trade CenterNew York2013Fumihiko Maki
United States51 Astor PlaceNew York2013Fumihiko Maki
United States345 East Village PromenadeNew York2014Fumihiko Maki
FranceLouvre-LensLens2012Kazuyo Sejima
NetherlandsTheater and ArtscentreAlmere2007Kazuyo Sejima
United StatesGrace FarmsNew Canaan2015Kazuyo Sejima
Canada1550 AlberniVancouver2020Kengo Kuma
DenmarkHouse of Fairytales,Odense2020Kengo Kuma
FranceCité des Arts et de la CultureBesançon2013Kengo Kuma
FranceGrand Teklan ( Paris Italia Square)Paris1992Kenzo Tange
FranceNice National Museum of Oriental ArtNice1998Kenzo Tange
ItalyFiera District CenterBologna1985Kenzo Tange
ItalyBMW Italy headquarters buildingSan Donato Milanese1998Kenzo Tange
ItalyCentro DirezionaleNaples1982Kenzo Tange
KuwaitKuwait International AirportKuwait City1979Kenzo Tange
MexicoEmbassy of Japan in MexicoMexico City1976Kenzo Tange
PakistanSupreme Court of Pakistan BuildingIslamanad1993Kenzo Tange
Saudi ArabiaKing Faisal Foundation HeadquartersJeddah1982Kenzo Tange
Saudi ArabiaEmbassy of Japan in Saudi ArabiaRiad1985Kenzo Tange
Saudi ArabiaState Palace of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Royal Palace of the KingdomJeddah1982Kenzo Tange
SingaporeGB BuildingSingapore1986Kenzo Tange
SingaporeCity Telecommunication CenterSingapore1986Kenzo Tange
SingaporeNanyang Technological UniversitySingapore1986Kenzo Tange
SingaporeSingapore Indoor StadiumCurran1989Kenzo Tange
SingaporeUOB PlazaSingapore1995Kenzo Tange
SingaporeUE SquareSingapore1996Kenzo Tange
SingaporeOUB Center BuildingSingapore1986Kenzo Tange
SyriaDamascus National Palace ( English version )Damascus1981Kenzo Tange
United StatesMinneapolis Art ComplexMinneapolis1974Kenzo Tange
United StatesAmerican Medical Association Headquarters BuildingChicago1990Kenzo Tange
ChinaBamboo Furniture HouseShifosi Village2014Shigeru Ban
FranceCentre Pompidou-Metz museumMetz Shigeru Ban
FranceLa Seine MusicaleIle Seguin Boulogne-Billancourt2017Shigeru Ban
GermanyJapanese PavilionHannover2000Shigeru Ban
New ZealandCardboard CathedralChristchurch2013Shigeru Ban
Sri LankaVilla VistaWeligama Shigeru Ban
TaiwanPaper DomeNantou1999Shigeru Ban
United StatesAspen Art MuseumAspen2014Shigeru Ban
AustriaBus StopKrumbach2014Sou Fujimoto
FranceL’Arbre BlancMontpellier2017Sou Fujimoto
HungaryForest of MusicBudapest2020Sou Fujimoto
ChinaAurora MuseumShanghai2013Tadao Ando
ChinaPearl Art MuseumShanghai2017Tadao Ando
FranceMeditation Space, UNESCOParis1995Tadao Ando
GermanyLangen FoundationNeuss2004Tadao Ando
GermanyVitra Seminar HouseWeil am Rhein1993Tadao Ando
HungaryInterior design of Miklós Ybl VillaBudapest2010Tadao Ando
ItalyFabrica (Benetton Communication Research Center)Villorba2000Tadao Ando
ItalyTeatro Armani-Armani World HeadquartersMilan2001Tadao Ando
ItalyInvisible HousePonzano Veneto2004Tadao Ando
MexicoGate of Creation, Universidad de MonterreyMonterrey2009Tadao Ando
MexicoCentro Roberto Garza Sada of Art Architecture and DesignMonterrey2012Tadao Ando
MexicoCasa WabiPuerto Escondido, Oax2014Tadao Ando
South KoreaGenius LociSeopjikoji2008Tadao Ando
South KoreaBonte MuseumSeogwipo2012Tadao Ando
South KoreaHansol Museum [38] (Museum SAN)Wonju2013Tadao Ando
South KoreaJCC (Jaeneung Culture Center)Seoul2015Tadao Ando
South KoreaGlass HouseSeopjikoji2008Tadao Ando
TaiwanAsia Museum of Modern ArtWufeng, Taichung2013Tadao Ando
United KingdomPiccadilly GardensManchester2003Tadao Ando
United StatesEychaner/Lee HouseChicago, Illinois1997Tadao Ando
United StatesPulitzer Arts FoundationSt. Louis, Missouri2001Tadao Ando
United StatesModern Art Museum of Fort WorthFort Worth, Texas2002Tadao Ando
United StatesMorimoto (restaurant)Chelsea Market, Manhattan2005Tadao Ando
United StatesStone Hill Center expansion for the Clark Art InstituteWilliamstown, Massachusetts2008Tadao Ando
United StatesHouse, stable, and mausoleum for fashion designer and film director Tom Ford’s Cerro Pelon Ranchnear Santa Fe, New Mexico2009Tadao Ando
United StatesVisitor, Exhibition and Conference Center, Clark Art InstituteWilliamstown, Massachusetts2014Tadao Ando
United States152 Elizabeth Street CondominiumsNew York, New York2018Tadao Ando
United StatesWrightwood 659Chicago2018Tadao Ando
AustraliaBlack TeahouseMelbourne2009
Terunobu Fujimori
AustriaStorkriding2012Terunobu Fujimori
GermanyWalking cafeMunich2012
Terunobu Fujimori
ItalyVenetian Biennial
10th International Architecture Exhibition Japan Pavilion
Venice2006
Terunobu Fujimori
TaiwanIrikawa Pavilion ・ Forgotten Tea BoatHsinchu County2010
Terunobu Fujimori
TaiwanLao Xuan XuanYilan County2013
Terunobu Fujimori
TaiwanWangbei Tea PavilionTaipei2014
Terunobu Fujimori
United KingdomBeatles houseLondon2010Terunobu Fujimori
BelgiumBruges pavilionBruges2002Toyo Ito
ChileWhite OMarbella2009Toyo Ito
ItalyHuge Wine GlassPescara2008Toyo Ito
MexicoInternational Museum of the BaroquePuebla2016Toyo Ito
SingaporeVivoCity 2006Toyo Ito
SpainTorre Realia BCN and Hotel Porta Fira,Barcelona2009Toyo Ito
SpainSuites Avenue BuildingBarcelona2009Toyo Ito
TaiwanWorld Games StadiumKaohsiung2008Toyo Ito
Taiwan
Koo Chen-Fu Memorial Library, College of Social Sciences, National Taiwan University
 2014Toyo Ito
Taiwan 2014Toyo Ito

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.