Understanding NATURE & HARMONY in Japanese Architecture

Interview with Yuko Nagayama

Yuko Nagayama’s EXPO 2020 Dubai design reflects a fusion of Japanese and Middle Eastern cultures with an emphasis on global materials.

A meticulously wrapped building in the Al Forsan Park EXPO 2020 Dubai Opportunity District beckons visitors to come inside. The Japan pavilion not only references the meeting between the traditional Middle Eastern “arabesque” pattern and the traditional Japanese “Asanoha (hemp leaf)” pattern but Japan’s fascination with gift wrapping, Origata, and paper folding, Origami.

Inside the building, as guests meander through the exhibits, the latest technology has allowed designers to convey Japanese history, art, and culture, in a futuristic way few would have imagined.

The water features that reflect the image of the Japan Pavilion add ornamentation to the scenery in the form of reflection pools and at the same time, borrow from the traditional methods of Japan and the Middle East. Sustainable architecture is realized through capturing the wind cooled by the heat vaporization of the water.

Taking “Connect” from the EXPO 2020 Dubai theme, architect Yuko Nagayama, Yuko Nagayama Associates principal and EXPO Japan Pavilion chief designer, integrated culture, technology, and sustainability into her design. The pavilion’s façade, with its delicate and slender architectural structure, combines both cultures and embodies Japan’s ability to respond flexibly while integrating with global culture.

“The design represents the fusion of Japanese and Middle Eastern cultures, to represent the long-standing relationship between the two nations,” Nagayama said.

Yuko Nagayama, Yuko Nagayama Associates

Japan shares the stage with 191 nations and organizations participating in the world EXPO, a 170-year tradition held every five years. The event provides a platform for countries to showcase the greatest innovations and latest technology that continue to shape the world we live in today.

Throughout the project, Nagayama and the on-site teams worked together to overcome the differences in the production environment and the regulations of each country. The result is a high-quality pavilion.

“This was due to the fact that everyone shared the same concept that I had initially proposed and we were able to push forward toward that goal together,” Nagayama said.

Nagayama’s design emphasized the overall Expo 2020 Dubai theme but as she explains, instead of using special materials to express Japan, she said, we thought to express Japan using global materials.

The design features parametrically designed smaller membranes, rather than a large membrane commonly used in most membrane architecture, with the position of the shadows determined by the movement of the sun, and according to the use of the space.

Similarly, in keeping with traditional Japanese art and design principles that focus on maintaining harmony with nature, Yuko said “While the lattice is systematic, the position of the membranes is randomly determined by the surrounding environment and other conditions. After the work was completed, various shadows fell on the surrounding area like sunshine through the trees.”

The use of Japanese water technology widely used in the Middle East is equally as important to the overall design and is expressed in the water basin outside of the pavilion. Sustainability is captured through the semi-exterior space by utilizing a small membrane on the façade of the building to block the sunlight. By placing the water basin in an appropriate position, when the wind blows, the building is cooled by the water basin and slips through the small membrane to enter the room. This method uses the power of nature to regulate the indoor environment. The system is sustainable as it can be reused, according to Nagayama.

EXPO 2020 Dubai will continue through March 31, 2022, with events scheduled around the ongoing COVID pandemic. Visit https://www.expo2020dubai.com/en/plan-your-visit for ticket and travel information, and current COVID protocol.


Yuko Nagayama Expo 2020 Dubai Japan Pavilion designer

Born in 1975 in Tokyo, Yuko graduated from Showa Women’s University in 1998 with a degree in life and environmental sciences. From 1998 to 2002, she worked at the architecture studio of Jun Aoki. In 2002, she established her own studio, YUKO NAGAYAMA & ASSOCIATES. Her major work includes the Kyoto Daimaru Louis Vuitton store, A Hill on a House, ANTEPRIMA, Kayaba Coffee, Sisii, Kiya Ryokan, Teshima Yokoo House, the fifth floor of Shibuya Seibu AB, and Goddess of the Forest Central Garden (a hall complex in Kobuchisawa, Yamanashi). Her many accolades include the L’Oreal Encouragement Prize; JCD Design Award Encouragement Prize in 2005; AR Emerging Architecture Awards 2006 in the UK for A Hill on a House; Architectural Record Award, Design Vanguard in 2012; JIA Best Newcomer in 2014 for the Teshima Yokoo House; Yamanashi Architecture Culture Prize; JCD Design Award Silver Prize in 2017; and Tokyo Architecture Prize Excellence Award in 2018 for Goddess of the Forest Central Garden. She is currently designing a new skyscraper for the Kabukicho district of Shinjuku, planned for completion in 2022 and TOKYO TORCH in Tokiwabashi.

Looking for a companion story? Read my initial article published in 2020. https://joanmatsuitravelwriter.com/expo-2020-dubai-preview/

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