WAN finds out about the uniquely Japanese approach to architecture from Ryo Abe of Architects Atelier Ryo Abe
In celebration of the newly launched WAN Asia awards, we are getting the low-down from some of the leading lights of architecture based in Asia. This week we are speaking with Ryo Abe, of Architects Atelier Ryo Abe, Tokyo, Japan, about winning the 2011 WAN 21 for 21 award, to discuss Japan’s approach to architecture and design, and to ask him what advice he would give to other young, up-and-coming practices in the region.
Architects Atelier Ryo Abe won the WAN 21 for 21 award back in 2011. Their latest project, the Perfil house, is an unusual and elegant private residence in the Meguro area of Tokyo.
Congratulations on winning 2011’s WAN 21 for 21 Award, dedicated to finding the next leading lights of architecture in the 21st century. What does winning the award mean to you as a firm practising in Japan?
It has allowed us to make many connections outside the design industry in Japan. This has been something which has differentiated us from other firms here, which because of language issues has a tendency to look inwards.
What would you say defines or differentiates the Japanese approach to architecture and design?
It is difficult for someone who operates within a particular approach to describe accurately what makes it unique, but I think here in Japan we tend to take an iterative approach to design and art, with a long process of refining research subjects, refining techniques, and refining objects until we are left with a very carefully considered result.
What do you see as the most significant challenges to architecture in Japan?
Long-term, the biggest threat to the high architectural quality of Japan is the aging and shrinking population. Already many beautiful examples of traditional architecture are being abandoned in remote rural areas, and this problem is only getting worse. We have several projects at the moment where we are studying ways to combat this effect, which often means moving beyond architecture into social and economic fields.
What are your practice’s aims or visions?
We integrate original ideas and forms with traditional Japanese techniques and materials in order to establish a new contemporary style suited to today. This is in contrast to the minimalist "white box" aesthetic that most people associate with contemporary Japanese architecture.
The appearance and interior spaces of our buildings use spontaneous forms and gestures to create a dialog with the surrounding environment and its inhabitants. In our approach, the building is part of the environment - part of nature, as we are.
It is our goal to create sensations and emotions with our architecture in the same way as music, films and performances can.
Each project is intrinsically connected to its surroundings, considering local history, traditions and context, using local materials and craftsmanship combined with new technologies. We believe that without being overtly so, this makes our methods naturally and inherently sustainable, without regard to trends or conventions.
Do you feel there is an architectural community in Japan with a culture that relates to your work?
Of course there are aspects of our work that are related to other designers, but there is quite a high diversity in the types of Japanese firms. There are not many designers doing work similar to ours, but that statement is true for many Japanese firms.
Advice for young architects?
Always think about the work you can do which will help you learn something you don't know, rather than what you can get paid for it.
We became architects because… It is natural for us, we can't imagine doing anything else.
For inspiration we look to… Music and performance art, contemporary art, vernacular architecture, natural forms, cooking and food.
Our favourite artists are… Olafur Eliasson, Sarah Sze come up a lot in the office.
In our spare time you’ll find us…In museums, in restaurants, traveling.
If you are interested in finding out more about the WAN Asia awards see: