Japan Style and Green Building

The book Japan Style – architecture + interiors + design, by Geeta Mehta and Kimie Tada contains lush photographs by Noboru Murata and is an inspiring insight into how traditional Japanese buildings are deeply green.

Green building is a symbiosis of many levels that forms a harmonious whole, and architecture in older societies like Japan is filled with a complex structure that covers an astounding array of natural, social and spiritual perspectives.

The book does a great job at showing these levels.

I am especially drawn to the book because the homes are on small lots in urban environments, and as a New York green contractor I know very well what it means to build green on small urban lots.

Unlike your typical New York homes, the Japanese homes in this book are expansive and deeply connected to nature. They are not expansive in size, in fact the homes are minuscule compared to US standards, rather they are expansive in style.

And this is the genius of traditional Japanese architectural design. The photographs show rooms and vistas as broad as a mansion, yet the square footage is not. This real feeling of space and airiness is achieved through intelligent placement of openings onto the garden, the use of fine building materials and a sparseness of design that was modern many centuries before Modernism became popular.

So much of Japanese traditional building echoes today’s green building ethos. The materials are all natural. The floor plans are small. Rooms are used for multiple uses. There is a deep connection between the home and the natural surroundings around it, both in terms of design and materials. The buildings follow the credos of “Less is more” and “form follows function”.

But most importantly for me the design is based on the understanding that our home is, like our body, a temple full of spiritual power. This element turns a collection of building materials into something more than rooms and walls. By being built with an understanding of the spiritual element of design, these homes not only give protection to the body but give support to the soul.

Green building is about natural materials, low embodied energy and energy efficiency. But it is a sack of bricks without the meaning behind it, which has many levels, from political, ecological, social, cultural and yes, spiritual. This meaning is something the traditional Japanese builders, with the benefit of a deep and old culture, drew from and imbued into their work.

The result is a home that nourishes on so many levels. My green contracting work in NY is a world apart from traditional Japan, but in this postmodern world where green building is both simultaneously drawing from cutting edge technology on one side and centuries old techniques on the other, there is a place for traditional Japanese building techniques on my tool belt.

A green builder, if anything, is somebody with a large tool belt.

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