Japanese architecture, like many aspects of Japanese culture in general, has a long and rich history, reaching back to prehistoric times. It has historically been influenced by Chinese architecture from the Tang Dynasty of the 7th to the 10th centuries, as well as by Korea of the same period. After the devastation of World War II, much of the older architecture in Japan was unfortunately destroyed. The need to rebuild the country was an important stimulus to Japanese architecture, and although the cities were functioning again in a few short years, they looked very different than before.
The look of older, landmark buildings in Japan is a sharp contrast to the current look of modern Japanese cities, which have been influenced by 20th and 21st century architectural attitudes. The newer structures, with the introduction of Western building techniques, materials, styles, and made mostly of steel and concrete, is often a jarring change compared to more traditional styles. Some have said that this reflects an assimilation of modern Western forms. Since the 1990s, however, this tendency began to change, and the work of architect Hiroshi Sambuichi has been a part of that change.
Since that time, traditional Japanese style has been reserved for mostly religious and domestic architecture, while skyscrapers have sprout up in Japanese cities. Sambuichi and his firm, Sambuichi Architects, for example, have focused on designing traditional-style homes for individuals and families. Sambuichi, who was born in 1968 and educated as a scientist at Tokyo University, has been making a name for himself in the architectural field. He has won several prestigious awards since 2000, and his firm has become a forerunner in Japanese architecture.
As one critic has stated, “Hiroshi Sambuichi`s ideas on making architecture are as far removed from those of his Tokyo contemporaries as the location of his Hiroshima-based office.” One of his most famous designs is a family home. He spent a great deal of time and energy in the preparation stage of this project, in which he illustrates a fundamental design concept—properly using the natural energy sources of the home’s surroundings in order to get the balance between the building and the earth where it stands right. For this home, Sambuichi used its surroundings directly in his design, and was influenced by the shapes and sizes of the natural forms nearby. He also used high-quality; indigenous materials, like Japanese cypress, chestnut wood, and crushed stone. The result was a structure strongly linked to the local landscape, a rare thing amidst the concrete and steel that makes up modern Japan.
Sambuichi has led the way to designing and developing more public-use buildings in this style. Another important structure he has become known for designing is the Seirensho, or “refinery,” located on an isolated island near Honshu in the Seto Inland Sea. The Seirensho was originally a factor building that was abandoned, but has in recent years become an art museum in the center of a flourishing center of art and architecture. Sambuichi used the ecology of the building to design a truly green museum, one that taxes very little on the energy use of the area.
Sambuichi is one of those forward-looking Japanese architects who are deeply rooted in tradition, but who designs responsible buildings that are strongly influenced by the ecology and nature of their surroundings. His designs reflect the natural beauty of what’s around, and uses modern concepts and techniques that create beautiful, traditional, and green structures.