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The Screen’d World of Japan


Having studied traditional Japanese architecture for years, I’ve known that screens are a major element in the folk (or vernacular) architecture here.  But I never expected to see such pervasive use of screens as I’m seeing everywhere we go. By screens, I’m referring to the wooden latticework covering window and door openings on building facades.
 Screened Tokyo | CTA Builds 1







I expected to see screens only on older traditional homes. And there are lots of these.
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But the surprise is how screens have been incorporated into more recent common structures…

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…and even into very sophisticated contemporary designs.

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So what is it about screens that they continue to be such an integral element in Japanese architecture? I’m mesmerized by these beautiful features. I have some theories.

1. Historically, windows were of paper. The wood screens probably protected the paper from punctures. Wood (or bamboo) was the material of choice for almost every building element, and wood craftsmanship evolved to an art unsurpassed anywhere in the world. Screens I’m seeing range from rustic to exquisitely detailed.

2. They slide! Sometimes there are 2 or 3 layers of screens, and all can slide….creating new rooms and spatial configurations at will. The sliding feature allows for very efficient use of limited space; a major issue in an environment where spaces are small. And they ARE small! But the screens can open one room to another, making for a much larger space…which is done frequently.

3. They afford layers of privacy. In a densely populated environment where the culture is very private and demure, the screens allow light into interior space, but restrict views into that space quite effectively. Occasionally you might get a momentary glimpse into a private interior garden through a screen that is more open in its design as you pass by on the street. It’s most enchanting!

4. I am personally fascinated by how the multiple layers of screens create a textural complexity to the streetscape that is so rich and beautiful. And how the facade of a modest structure is rendered so exquisite by the composition of its screens. I can’t stop taking pictures of these elevations!








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