Washi is traditional Japanese paper. If you are a washi tape lover, you already know how it can be strong despite its thinness and delicate, fine look. It also peals easily, making your art work beautiful and enjoyable.
Have you ever wondered what the secrets are for washi? How can they look fragile when it’s actually strong? In order to know them, you’d have to go back to the trees. Washi is pretty picky about which trees to use. It’s typically kozo or mitsumata, sometimes ganpi. Kozo has thick, long and resilient fiber. It’s used for various applications. Mitsumata is more flexible and lucent, and suitable for printing.
Since modern paper manufacturing use wood chip, the fibers are cut short. It’s much easier to process, but the end product is not as strong as washi. Washi preserves original length of fiber, hence strong. But it takes much longer, and requires extensive labor to process.
Taking advantage of this strength and resilience, washi has traditionally been used as part of architecture in Japan, most notably as shoji and fusuma. They are both screen/ partition/door that would separate interior from exterior. Traditional Japanese house would have shoji outside the room, and engawa, and amado (rain door). You would open amado in the morning so as sunlight could come in. Shoji has largely been functioning as a semi-wall, or transparent wall that would separate inside from outside.
It connects inside and outside ambiguously, or humans and the environment naturally.
But it shoji-house gets pretty cold during winter, and that’s one of the biggest reasons why traditional house lose popularity. Today, most houses have sturdy and dividing walls.
Kengo Kuma tries to re-imagine the resilience of paper, by unleashing its potential to the maximum. He wants to re-introduce paper as a viable option for construction, not as nostalgia, or a material that creates some shabby-chic atmosphere. That was part of his passion to re-imagine architecture as something a lot more resilient, by making it conformable to, and directly connected to nature.