The Japanese House exhibition at the Barbican review ***

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The Japanese House: Architecture and Life after 1945

Barbican Art Gallery, 27th March 2017

Bit of a mixed bag/curate’s egg here. There are some undeniably interesting insights in this exhibition but I was less enamoured of the set piece external and internal installations accommodated within the fabric of the Barbican’s gallery space (which is not a great favourite of mine – it lacks natural light and always feels a bit half-hearted compared to the Hall and Theatre). These installations just felt a bit gimmicky.

What the exhibition does convey is the extraordinary imagination that generations of post WWII architects have brought to Japanese domestic architecture when faced with limitations of space, capital or materials. There are some beautiful solutions, largely delicate and transitory, whether as built projects or simply paper ideas. Resolving the relationship between the interior and exterior is a particular skill on show with many of the houses deliberately putting the interior on show whilst others resolutely turn their backs on the outside world. And many of them are just so dinky.

There is an interesting video tracing the development of rapid build, affordable housing by way of example through the period under review and some excerpts from the domestic films by the post war Japanese masters including Yasujiro Ozu reminding me of another rich seam of cinema that I need to explore. Watching Tokyo Story again recently left me and the SO speechless – a must do for anyone and everyone.

So if you are an architectural buff or a denizen of Japanese culture worth popping along. For the more casual observer there s probably only just enough on show to justify the trip, and it promises maybe a little more than it actually delivers.

 

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