Japanese Module Interpreted: De-quotations of re-quotations on Katsura Villa

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The Katsura Imperial Villa in Kyoto was a significant source of inspiration for the early
modernists, which makes it an important precedent even for contemporary architects.
Nonetheless, the meanings and interpretations of its modular and spatial ordering have
varied greatly. Bruno Taut, who is considered the ‘discoverer’ of Katsura Villa, stated in
Nippon Seen through European Eyes (1934) that “standard measures are strictly
applied.” Similarly, in Katsura: Tradition and Creation in Japanese Architecture (1960)
Walter Gropius claimed that in the modular coordination “the rooms were laid out on a
multiple of a standard mat, the tatami.” The latter view has been repeated over again in
so many publications that it is often seen as a ‘fact’. Yet, in The Japanese House: A
Tradition for Contemporary Architecture (1964) Heinrich Engel pointed out that “it is
important to note that the tatami has never, not even fictitiously, functioned as a module
of any kind.” In spite of this, however, numerous analyses of Japanese architecture still
regard the tatami mat as a standardised module of Japanese residential architecture,
whereas little attention has been paid to the primary modular methods based on column
distance, or ken, also ma which is another reading of the same ideogram, nor to other
discrepancies. In turn, referring to Teiji Itoh’s study on Japanese kiwari modular method,
Kenzo Tange maintained in the 1960 book on Katsura that contrary to some
interpretations “the distribution of the pillars shows no evidence of subservience to the
formalistic rules of kiwari.” Arata Isozaki agreed to a great extent, but offered postmodern
analyses based on complexity of expression in which various methods are combined. As
he also discussed the role of literary allusions and quotations in the design, this paper
examines these interpretations of the Katsura Villa.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2017
EventThe 34th Annual Conference of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand, 2017: Quotation, Quotation: What Does History Have in Store for Architecture Today? - University of Canberra, Canberra, Australia
Duration: 5 Jul 20178 Jul 2017
Conference number: 34TH


ConferenceThe 34th Annual Conference of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand, 2017
Abbreviated titleSAHANZ 2017
Internet address


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