Greek And Japanese Architecture Term Paper

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Greek and Japanese Architecture

For a great many years, architecture has been a breaking point for different artistic

eras in history. Some of the most famous “works of art” have been chapels, temples, and

tombs. Among the most dominant and influential eras of great architecture are the

sophisticated, stoic Greeco-Roman periods and the more mystical, elemental Japanese

eras. These two very distinct and very different eras have more in common than you may


When work began on the Parthenon in 447 BC, the Athenian Empire was at the

height of its power. Work on the temple continued until 432; the Parthenon, then,

represents the tangible and visible blossoming of Athenian imperial power, impaired by the

damages of the Peloponnesian War. Likewise, it symbolizes the power and influence of the

Athenian politician, Perkiness, who championed its construction (Stokstad).

Using a great number of different means of architectural development, i.e. groin

vaults, barrel vaults, pedestals and the like, the Greeks dramatized their buildings and filled

them with magnificent images. Using the great artistry of the times, they sculpted, painted

and decorated the monuments with great fervor and passion, all for the love of design,

composition, and dynamic proportions. The graceful, smooth lines and elegant “sculpture

of the round,” are reminiscent of another era of excellent architecture, the Japanese era.

From the beginning of this century, Japanese architecture has influenced many

western architects, such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Bruno Taut, and Walter Gropius. Its

landscape architecture has long inspired park and garden designers on every continent.

Currently, Japan's modern architecture is having a striking influence on global architecture.

Japanese architecture is an inherent part of Japanese culture, and even Tokyo's

most modern "high-tech" buildings draw their inspiration from old Japanese design.

Japan's ancient castles and palaces, timber houses, tatami-mat tea rooms and Zen gardens,

Shinto shrines, and Buddhist temples, as well as the latest shopping centers, sports

facilities, residential complexes, office towers, department stores, and high-tech structures

are some excellent examples of Japanese Architecture (

Japan is described as a country of wood, and the reverence of natural materials.

The depths of the love and admiration that the Japanese people have for wood are famous,

which is similar to the Greek love of pristine marble and its smooth surfaces. This can be

seen in an old Japanese expression "plants and trees all have something to say", Japanese

believe that trees have a soul and say they can sense spirits, or "kami", within them. It is

trees that form the core which nurtures the sensibilities about nature held by the Japanese

people. It is thus natural for architecture in Japan to be based on wood. Many structures

are made of wood, ranging from shrines and temples to palaces and homes, and in doing

so grand structures have been created (Stokstad).

Castles and palaces dating from the end of the 16th century, including Oda

Nobunaga's Azuchi Castle and Toyotomi Hideyoshi's Osaka Castle and Jurakudai Palace,

are tall castle towers that rise into the sky at the center of groups of magnificent buildings

executed in the Shoin style, decorated with carvings and wall paintings done on gold

backgrounds. In some of these castles, tea rooms with plain thatched roofs were favored,

with the rooms made as small as could be built. These two elements of magnificence and

plainness jointly formed the tastefulness of the Momoyama period (1568-1600).

However, these two factors by no means contradict one another: the basic

principles are the same, and in a sense what developed was a double-layered structure

where the inside and outside were one and the same (

Similar to the Greeks, the Japanese artisans stressed the importance of both

functionality and beauty in there designs for buildings. Each culture, although completely

different, both inherited a great deal of respect for design.

The Greeks used intricate sculpture and carvings to enhance the look and texture

of their architecture, as the Japanese. As seen in the Byodo-in of the Heian period of

Japan, also called the Phoenix Hall for it’s adoration the mystical bird, gracefulness and

detail play a major part in the design and implementation.

Built for the Fujimara family in the eleventh century, this palace converted to a

temple, houses a great deal of “sculpture of the round” like that of the Greek Parthenon.

Every angle and curve has been handled with diamond like precision. The dramatic

redirection of the lines in the roof and crisp ninety degree angles of the pillars and

doorways mirror the smooth lines and elegant curves in the columns and the exaggerated

proportions of the Parthenon.

As with all eras in history, architecture (among other things) is a representative of

the cultural heritage of the time period. The Greeks stressed the importance of their gods

and goddesses where the Japanese valued not only their deities, but their leaders and

teachers as well. Both time periods using ornate and decorative skills to not only open up

the buildings enclosures to give them a more airy, natural feel, but the take the viewer’s

emotion to the point where they admire and respect the buildings and it’s heritage as much

as the original architects and artisans.

Word Count: 860

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