The Constructed Other argues that the assumed otherness of Japanese architecture has made it both a testbed for Western architectural theories and a source of inspiration for Western designers. The book traces three recurring themes in Western accounts of Japanese architecture from the reopening of Japan in the mid-nineteenth century to the present day: a wish to see Western architectural theories reflected in Japanese buildings; efforts to integrate elements of Japanese architecture into Western buildings; and a desire to connect contemporary Japanese architecture with Japanese tradition. It is suggested that, together, these narratives have had the effect of creating what amounts to a mythical version of Japanese architecture, often at odds with historical fact, but which has exercised a powerful influence on the development of building design internationally.
Table of Contents
Foreword by Kengo Kuma
A built chimera
1. Three types of otherness
2. The self in the other
3. The other in the self
4. The other in the other
5. The lens of myth
Kevin Nute teaches the history and theory of architecture at the University of Hawai’i, Mānoa, and is also an emeritus professor of architecture at the University of Oregon. He received his architectural training at the University of Nottingham before working in practice in London, Hong Kong and Singapore and earning his PhD at Cambridge. Professor Nute spent his early career in Japan, first as a visiting research scholar at the University of Tokyo and later as an associate professor of architecture at Muroran Institute of Technology. His other books include Frank Lloyd Wright and Japan (2000), Place, Time and Being in Japanese Architecture (2004), Naturally Animated Architecture (2018), and This Here Now: Japanese Building and the Architecture of the Individual (2020).
Ever since Japan opened to the world in the mid-19th century, the West has held a strong fascination with Japanese architecture and, in doing so, successfully turned it into an exotic phenomenon or, indeed, myth. Western narratives became obsessed with isolated images of temples, gardens, Ise Shrine, Katsura Villa, and not least the proverbial Japanese house and, as a result, all of which have been turned into stereotypes in our perceptions. With little real knowledge about the cultural context and a way of life that gave birth to them, and thus deprived of their native ground, they were subject to systematic misunderstandings. Scores of even noted Western architects, while routinely applying their own criteria or value systems, have failed to decipher the meaning of this highly complex and profoundly rich Asian architectural culture. We in the West have too often been blinded by our own prejudices and, when looking at Japanese architecture, saw only what we wanted to or could see.
Kevin Nute’s excellent book, The Constructed Other, is the first and long overdue publication to highlight and debunk this still prevailing misguided Western view of Japanese architecture. It is a must reading for all who intend to approach and learn about the centuries-long fertile Japanese architecture.
Botond Bognar, Professor and Edgar A. Tafel Endowed Chair in Architecture, University of Illinois Urban-Champaign, USA
The allure of the architecture of Japan has long captured the imagination of designers in the West since its opening to the world in the mid-19th century up to the present. Kevin Nute’s The Constructed Other analyzes the multiple narratives of “Japanese Architecture” ranging from Gothic revival architect Ralph Adams Cram to Postmodernism theorist Charles Jencks. The vicissitudes of these accounts including observations of canonical landmarks from the seemingly ornate Nikko Shrine to minimal Ise Shrine and both modern and complex Katsura Imperial Villa collectively dispel the illusion of a singular, essential architectural tradition. Nute’s own nuanced interpretations build on his previous books Frank Lloyd Wright and Japan (2000) and Place, Time and Being in Japanese Architecture (2004) and underscore the continuing role of the “Constructed Other” as architects’ look to Japan for, as Nute elucidates, “self-evaluation, validation, and inspiration.”
Ken Tadashi Oshima, Professor of Architecture, University of Washington, USA
Japanese architecture is different, it has specificities that made it “avant-garde” even before modern architecture was created. Since the opening of Japan to the West, this other mythical kind of architecture has fascinated Western visitors. Today, it keeps on offering multiple interpretations for developing contemporary creations. Kevin Nute’s book offers a meaningful reflection on traditional and new Japanese architectures as seen in Western eyes, and their desires to reveal and construct spatial mysteries.
Benoit Jacquet, Associate Professor, Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient, Director EFEO Research Centre, Kyoto, Japan
The West has long been fascinated with Japan as a place both “enigmatic” and “exotic.” Simultaneously, Japan has been aware of and responded to outside influences. The Constructed Other confronts the Western gaze on Japan and Japanese architecture in particular and turns it back on itself. The book explores the role of influential Western architects in defining “Japan-ness” and its varied forms of value to both the West and Japan. The Constructed Other challenges superficial readings of Japanese architecture and advocates for deep reflection into our intentions as observers – and sometimes connoisseurs, collectors, and exploiters – of the “other.”
Mira Locher, Professor and Dean of the Faculty of Architecture, University of Manitoba, Canada