A Symbiosis of Architecture and Nature

Cover. House in Kamitomii, Kurashiki, Japan [2019]. Architecture: General Design Co.


This text is an excerpt from Japanese Timber Frame Methodology: Alternative Solutions to Hawaii’s Built Environment [2012] by David Y. Yen. 


Author's Note

My interest in timber frame design and architecture stems from my passion in woodworking and traditional Japanese architecture and philosophy. This research document was composed to bring into light the innovative design and construction solutions that Japanese carpenter’s developed over generations in their history of traditional Japanese architecture. Their sole and primary use of wood as a material for building construction led to the development of a woodworking methodology that pioneered innovations in timber frame architectural design and building construction for centuries. 

Today, the design features created by the tradition of Japanese architecture has readily been a prominent influence in the realms of architecture and the arts and crafts. However, the extension of its influence seems to be limited to the superficial design features of the Japanese house. Japanese architecture is not merely an aesthetic distinction in architecture and the arts. Japanese architecture is a holistic approach to the built environment that includes a methodology of building design and construction that is rooted in the tradition of the Japanese carpenter and the influence of the values of Zen Buddhism in the carpenter’s woodworking philosophy.

Therefore, this research document attempts to introduce Japanese carpentry, as an architectural study, through a different light. Portions of the study do take into consideration the superficial design characteristics that define the Japanese house, but the bulk of the research touches on the tradition of Japanese architecture from the perspective of the Japanese carpenter, who at the time played the dual role of both designer and builder.


Part One

A Concise History of Traditional Japanese Architecture

Since prehistory the Japanese have implemented wood in the construction of their most simple and primitive shelters. According to Nish and Hozumi, in the book What is Japanese Architecture?, 'the distant ancestors of the modern Japanese appear to have sought protection from the wind and rain in natural shelters such as rocky overhangs or caves, or in simple huts built of wood from nearby trees.'1


1. Kazuo Nishi, Kazuo Hozumi [1996]. What is Japanese Architecture?. pp.54.
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