As a post-war art movement, minimalism spanned its influence across all realms of culture and thought, most notably through architectural design. The popularity of minimalist architecture began in the late 1980s in America and the UK, though it’s very nature—a focus on simplicity, functionality and an almost ‘zen-like’ spirituality—certainly has its roots in Japanese aesthetics and culture. Japanese architects such as Tadao Ando and Kazuyo Sejima are renowned for their minimalist approach to interior and exterior design, typically employing bold usage of concrete, natural light, vast spaces and clean lines. Ando’s style in particular was thought to take its cues from the Japanese ‘haiku’ poetry, emphasising nothingness and empty space, while representing the beauty of simplicity. In Ando’s words, “dwelling in a house is not only a functional issue, but also a spiritual one.” Though an acquired taste for some, minimalism can really turn a home into a spiritual haven—especially minimalism that offers a distinctly Japanese sensibility.
Take a light stroll through following examples of delightfully appointed Japanese minimalism, and consider employing a few Zen-like design techniques within your own home.
In modern architecture, the use of plain concrete often conjures images of drab, prefabricated blocks— cheap architecture built for bottom lines over aesthetics. However, this isn’t necessarily always the case. Concrete is a popular choice in Japanese minimalism for its ability to provide a sense of cleanliness and weightlessness. While this might be the case more so internally, the effect is in keeping here in this exterior example—solid concrete blocks creating a Zen compound setting, with clean lines, one side of that yard adorned with shrapnel, the other with verdant grass and a single plant. Japanese minimalism at its most refined.
Internally is where the Japanese minimalist effect is most felt. This brand of minimalism appreciates and harnesses the creative use of natural light—here, bright open glass panes for walls and ceiling provide immaculate access to the elements outside for its inhabitants to effortlessly experience the beauty and spirit of nature thorough architecture.
A key principle of Japanese minimalism is the concept of ‘Ma’, which refers to empty or open space. Part of this central tenet is the removal of all unnecessary internal walls. While it isn’t exactly what you would call an ‘open plan’ design, the use of glass walls throughout this example (except for bedroom areas) creates ample sense of ‘Ma’. Another concept of Japanese minimalism is to minimise the division between ‘in’ and ‘out’—here, the concept is exemplified by the lone tree in a purpose built sunroom, and the ‘staircase to the sky’ that offers this home’s inhabitants effortless access to the natural world.
Zen principles abound again here in this fantastic example—glass connecting walls turn what would otherwise be a nondescript perfunctory corridor into a transparent room full of light where the inhabitants are barely separated from the natural world. This method also works to create a steady flow of energy between the different rooms of the house.
When it comes to the bathroom, everything is in its place. Space-saving methods are employed here in this example, acknowledging that some domestic spaces, especially cosier ones, still need to incorporate necessary mod con functionality while being driven by a purposefully aesthetic design agenda. Here, washer and dryer slide discreetly into this bathroom scene, taking away nothing from the integrity and simplicity of the bathroom design.
Free flowing corridors are at work again in this fine example, and the interaction between concrete and glass operating on the yin and yang principles of opposite, yet complementary energies—they fuse and work together here to provide an elegant, flowing domestic environment. Again, the natural world, with ample natural light, is invited in.
Another crucial concept of Japanese minimalism within interior design comes from the idea that everything ought to be reduced down to its most essential quality. The aesthetic of ‘Wabi Sabi’ values the quality of simple and plain objects, where the absence of unnecessary features enables one to view life in solitude, where the most innate character of interior materials is displayed. Note how these aesthetics are at play in this example—the chairs, table, side benches, television and sitting area, all functioning in their most simple, functional form.