Oriental Architecture: Its Influence and Influencers | Sunday Observer

Oriental Architecture: Its Influence and Influencers

30 August, 2020

It is an unassailable truth that culture has a massive role in influencing architectural identity, and in turn, by looking at the unique architectural styles of traditional structures, it is possible to glean a proper idea of that culture. What the people valued and what geographical requirements they face also played a huge part in advancing architecture. This is especially true for Eastern cultures, like China and Japan, where the cultures and needs of the people are so vastly different from the West. However, despite the many similarities they share, the very real differences between these Eastern cultures are easily missed when overlooking the finer details.

First, the similarities, as mentioned before, are many and much of the architecture in China and Japan can easily be mistaken to be one and the same. This is of course due to the great influence Chinese culture had on Japanese culture. One of Japan’s most defining architectural aspects, the complex use of wood, was a characteristic influenced by Buddhism, introduced to the nation by China. Wood was an abundant resource for both countries and was much easier to work with than stone. Wood was flexible and resilient in the face of natural disasters, which plagued Japan constantly. However, one of the key differences between the two nations in their wood usage was that China painted wood more than Japan was likely to.Most of the looks and feel of the buildings of Japan were almost directly inspired by Chinese architecture, though the interiors were vastly different.

Japan did not use wood to construct rooms in the traditional sense, with the entire floor only being separated by thin partitions that could easily be removed to free up more space. Each room was also mostly bare and would simultaneously serve multiple functions, with furniture being added in when needed for a certain purpose . Cushions for sitting and futons for sleeping were easily put away when not necessary.. Instead of doors, Japan invented unique sliding doors, Shoji which allowed light and Fusuma which did not. China had more standard rooms and used chairs.

Houses were not constructed with an exterior or interior considered as separate entities and the borders between constructed structures and nature was left intentionally obscure. Long verandas and multiple sliding doors kept the inside of buildings constantly connected to the outside. However, in more aristocratic circles, the naturalelement was often carefully constructed rather than kept wild. This communion with nature was especially important for Japan, whose Buddhist and Shinto beliefs placed a lot of reverence fon the natural world.

However, at a certain point, these traditional constructions were phased out in favour of modernising. While China was more recent and gradual with this change, Japan had several revolutionary points in time that these changes can be traced back to. The first was the Shinto-Buddhist separation which saw the near abolishment of Buddhism in Japan and which saw the Buddhist constructions torn down and abandoned. Next was the Meiji Restoration which saw the rapid modernisation of all aspects of society, including architecture. While the first two instances were more controversial, Japan’s surrender after WW2 caused an almost universal adoption of western architecture.

Even with this westernistaion of architecture in the east, a lot of aspects of traditional architecture remains, like the sliding doors and abstract rooms for Japan. The Genkan, a sunken space near the entrance to a home where shoes are left before entering is still available in the average Japanese home and Tatami mats, a traditional reed material, are not uncommon for flooring. China prefers to reserve traditional architecture for their government buildings and other important structures. In a rapidly advancing world, it is easy for a culture to lose its identity. The blending of the modern and traditional ensures that a culture can remain distinct and alive while also moving forward.