Michael Webb
writes on modern architecture, design, and travel. He is the author of 26 books, most recently Modernist Paradise: Niemeyer House, Boyd Collection (Rizzoli) and Venice CA: Art +Architecture in a Maverick Community (Abrams). He travels widely in search of new and classic modern architecture and contributes to magazines around the world. Michael lives in the Neutra apartment that Charles and Ray Eames once called home.

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Michael Webb

Entries in Japan (2)


Books: Old Japan Made New

A new monograph explores the compelling work of architect Kengo Kuma.

By Michael Webb

Kengo Kuma: Complete Works.  (Thames & Hudson, $65)

In his erudite introduction, Kenneth Frampton calls Kengo Kuma “quintessentially Japanese” and the 25 projects the architect has selected are deeply rooted in the craft traditions of that country. The title is misleading: Only a quarter of Kuma’s buildings are featured, and the large commercial projects in Beijing that have sustained his practice in recent years are omitted. It’s a wise choice, for Kuma works best on a modest scale with traditional materials. In his foreword, he writes with feeling of his collaboration with traditional craftsmen in rural Shikoku and in Tohuku, a region ravaged by the earthquake and tsunami of 3/11.  “The richness and strength of that culture cannot be understood until one has worked with the people who live there—until one has eaten their food, drunk their sake, talked with the craftsmen and made things with them,” he writes.

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REVIEW: New Architecture in Japan

Click image to visit Hennessey + Ingalls BookstoreNew Architecture in Japan
by Yuki Sumner and Naomi Pollock
Photography by Edmund Sumner
(Merrell, $49.95)

Outsiders have the sharpest appreciation of the contradictions of Japan, and this selection of a hundred recent buildings focuses on radical alternatives to a prevailing conformity. A British photographer traveled extensively with his Japanese wife, searching for exceptional work by mainstream architects and such mavericks as Atelier Bow-Wow, Shuhei Endo, and Terunobu Fujimori. Perceptive essays by Yuki Sumner and Naomi Pollock, an American architect who lives in Japan, seek to explain why innovation flourishes in a country that seems so uniform and banal to Western eyes.  Sumner traces the long history of deviance in Japan and the subtle ways that individuals can express their dreams. Pollock evokes the ephemeral urban context that is constantly renewing itself, rejecting the past in a quest for novelty. “Freed from the historical and aesthetic constraints facing their counterparts in the West, architects in Japan readily experiment with new structural systems, construction materials and geometrical solutions,” she asserts. Confronted by tough legal restrictions and deeply entrenched social conventions, the best architects “treat those limitations as catalysts for, not impediments to, good design” Many of the buildings shown here are hidden away or are located in remote areas that may take a day to reach, and that makes this colorful survey all the more valuable as a record of what lies off the radar.