Monday, May 2, 2011


detail @ outer shutter (amado), Imperial Palace, Kyoto

I am observing a rich tradition of simple, natural, material patterns that mark transitions of spaces. These planes of patterns and textures mark territories, create boundaries, and give form to the places deemed important. They distinguish public from private.

The basic structure that binds these divergent elements together is the grid. The grid; a rational devise that creates an imposed order of things, organizes natural materials into a complete, coherent building system. In Japanese design, the contrast of the right angle structure (grid) is the natural form. This is further elaborated on by Gunter Nitschke, Japanese Gardens:

"I see this overlapping of the rational and the random, the right angle and the natural form, at all levels of Japanese design."......."At their best, these two opposites of random and imposed order complement each other like the Chinese principles of Yin and Yang."

From a simple aesthetic perspective, my pattern collages of building elements (sand, floors, screens, roofs) represent a rational order imposed onto the natural form. They also become processional markers in space; one space transitions into the next. Each unit of pattern connects to the next.

"Each unit serves, in essence, as a bridge between the foreground and the deeper interior, and space consists of a series of such units, like the links of a chain."
                                                                  Nakagawa Takeshi,
                                                                 The Japanese House In Space, Memory, and Language

 1) Translucent shoji screen (akarishoji), Imperial Palace, Kyoto; 2) opaque outer shutter (amado), Daitoku-ji Temple, Kyoto; 3) opaque outer  shutter (amado), Toji Temple, Kyoto

The layering of space in  traditional Japanese architecture is like the pealing of an orange. The opaque outer skin; the shutter (amado), reveals a delicate, translucent inner skin; the shoji screen (sukashishoji) which opens onto a deeper space with more painted, opaque, movable, screen walls (fusuma). This layering of space is a theme that runs deep in Japanese design aesthetics.  

Such transitional boundaries offer protection from the elements and illuminate the deep recesses of the interior. They also act as a deliberate framing devise for viewing the outside from within and vice versa. These sliding screens, revealing degrees of opacity, present a reductive set of lines that highlight organic textures within.

1.) rounded tile roof (hongawara), Imperial Palace, Kyoto; 2.) multi-layered, supporting eave bracket complex, Imperial Palace, Kyoto; 3) fan rafters (ogidaruki), (detail of image #1 above, Imperial Palace, Kyoto Kyoto; 4) multi-layered, supporting eave bracket complex, @ corners, Imperial Palace, Kyoto

Zen-shuyo tile roofs and their supporting "bracket complexes", (multiple rafter systems), were developed in early Japanese Buddhist temples and later integrated into imperial usage. They assume a dominant presence over the outlining surrounding areas. The origin of this roofing system, though less complicated, came from China. Very characteristic of the Zen-shuo roof is that it has a strong curvature at the eave corners and is steeply inclined. When one gazes up the furrows of these silver-gray, glazed tiles (hongawara) the sense of weight and gravity is challenged. Zen-shuyo architecture showcases "bracket complexes" which are stacked on top of one another expressing a decorative character both inside and out.
The exposed double rafter systems (the ends of which are painted white) help to define the importance of a  building, thus becoming a marker in space.  I am  particularly interested in the patterns that these multiple rafter systems create with their the high contrast of white paint (at the end grain of the rafters) and the natural, brown-black color of the aged, untreated wood. Though they express the rational methodology of construction, they also double as a glimpse into the abstract world of the transcendental.

1) decorative wooden carving at the outer edge of the end rafter (detail), Kurodani Temple, Kyoto; 2) decorative bracketed doors, Imperial Palace, Kyoto; 3) decorative wooden carving at the outer edge of the end rafter (detail), Rokkaku-do Temple, Kyoto

In temple and imperial Japanese architecture all decoration has meaning. Each detail ties into the next. Here, decoration supports a well orchestrated narrative. Symbolic meaning is embedded in each decorative form.

1) exterior wall of stacked roof tiles embedded in clay, Daitoku-ji Monastery, Kyoto; 2) (detail), exterior wall of stacked roof tiles parts and concrete, Daitoku-ji Monastery, Kyoto

Japanese garden walls are another form of marking boundaries.  Constructed out of a variety of  different natural materials they define an enclosure. Some walls offer a view into the other side, a continuation for viewing another space beyond. Other walls are protective; opaque, yet offer rich evidence of an organic randomness within its structure.  

   1) detail of gravel dry garden, Daitoku-ji Monastery, Kyoto; 2) dry garden, Zuiho-in Temple, Daitoku-ji Monastery, Kyoto; 3) detail of the
       Ginsadan (Sea of Silver Sand) dry garden, Ginkaku-ji Temple, Kyoto

Japanese dry landscape gardens (karesansui) represent the Zen idea that the universe can be found in a grain of sand.  These microscopic universes convey an allegiance to a deeper, more abstract meaning of life by reducing material usage and experience to sand, gravel and stones. 

    1) detail of residential stone walkway, Kyoto; 2) detail showing tatami mats and shoji screen floor track, Koto-in Temple, Daitoku-ji
    Monastery, Kyoto

This unique section of  a street-side pedestrian pathway suggests directional movement as though it were placed in an imaginary garden.  It's random order of larger, rectangular granite stones filled in with bits of darker colored, slate creates an illusion of walking on stepping stones that rise up from  a watery base. Transitioning from a conventional concrete sidewalk onto this experiential "bridge" marks a transition of space and instills conscious awareness.  Similarly, the wooden floor track for an interior opaque screen panel (fusuma) divides one space from another. This is further articulated by the use of the brocade edge binding of the tatami matting.  

 1) detail of translucent shoji screen (sukashishoji) Koto-in Temple, Daitoku-ji Monastery, Kyoto; 2) detail of reed blinds (yoshizu) Koto-in Temple, Daitoku-ji Monastery, Kyoto; 3) exterior woven bamboo window opening, Koto-in Temple, Daitoku-ji Monastery, Kyoto; 4) Detail of tatami mats with interior opaque panels (fusuma) Koto-in Temple, Daitoku-ji Monastery, Kyoto

The use of the grid; an ingenious, simplistic system of uniting diverse, natural materials has taken centuries for the Japanese to refine. This rectilinear framing of organic matter offers  a prescribed order; a module for repeated form. their appreciation of the rational and the random is inspiring.

detail of cut-out pattern in garden door panel, Koto-in Temple, Daitoku-ji Monastery, Kyoto

The intention of this writing is to better understand how space can be created to unify transitional experiences. Here the intentionality of a limited palette of patterns and textures offers a multitude of defined richness. The emphasis is on connectivity which breeds spaciousness in an environment that is physically bound.


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