The Japanese House: Architecture and life after 1945

Trace the development of post-war architecture in Japan and explore a full-scale replica of a modern house

This is not a typical gallery exhibition, in that it doesn’t celebrate an artist or glorious treasures from the past. On arrival, it’s a bit confusing as there is no noticeable sequential beginning or end. You don’t start in the first room but are advised to view a film on the first floor then follow the photos of homes built after the Second World War, to house a growing population after the devastating effects of Allied bombs.

In the 1950s there was a vogue for Western-style homes and furniture but architects such as Kiyoshi Seike argued for modular houses with open floor plans to enable the use of rooms to be interchangeable. I always wonder why we haven’t taken up those screens with paper panels that the Japanese use as room dividers. Hugh-St-Clair-colour-176

Japanese people have a love of calm simplicity – and we love the neat filing systems and light furnishings found in Muji shops all over Europe. In the past 40 years we have also embraced open-plan living.

At the heart of the exhibition is a full-size re-creation of a house built for Yasuo Moriyama, by Ryue Nishizawa, which won the Pritzker Architecture Prize and is considered to be one of the most important houses of the 20th century. The furniture and fittings are very ordinary and not necessarily Japanese. However, curator Florence Ostende is keen to stress that this is the home, and life, of an individual, and not a showcase for Japanese art and design.

One concept that architects in Europe could take note of is a way of building that allows families to live together but not on top of each other, by placing tiny houses round a central tea garden.

The show also has a series of films and workshops and on some Thursdays and Saturdays the tea ceremony is performed. In the gift shop you’ll find beautiful Japanese fabrics and simple pottery.

The effects of seeing this show are subtle. While few of us will ever find ourselves living in a Japanese-style house, I took away ideas and tips to create a simple small interior and how to bring the outside in through the clever use of plants.

Until 25 June at Barbican Art Gallery, Barbican Centre, Silk Street, London EC2: 020-7638 8891,