The Cross-Cultural Origin of Sukiya

Editors Note: Hiroo Kurano, AIA is a renowned architect specializing in Japanese landscape architecture. He is a member of the Palomar Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. Prior to the Coronavirus pandemic and resulting stay-at-home orders, the Chapter had planned a presentation on the following topic. Until we can reschedule the session, we are pleased to present you with a snippet of Mr. Kurono’s work on the topic of Sukiya.

This presentation will focus on the complex, cross-cultural origin of Sukiya (数寄屋 ) architecture, as well as how—and why—it manifests a harmonious unity between architecture, gardens and nature.

The Pritzker Prize has been awarded to many Japanese architects—most recently, to Arata Isozaki (2019), Shigeru Ban (2014) and Toyo Ito (2013). Since Japan opened its doors to Euro-American culture just before the Meiji Restoration of 1868, modern Japanese architecture has been greatly influenced by the West.

 However, even with this impact, there has remained a strong stream of “traditional” Japanese architecture called Sukiya. Yet, Sukiya architecture is tied to the first Westerner to play a leading role in the opening of Japan to the West: Francis Xavier (1506-1552), the Portuguese missionary who arrived in Japan in 1549.

I first discuss the Sukiya tradition in its original context, the tea ceremony (wabicha) of Sen no Rikyū (1522-1591), and then analyze the influence of European culture on wabi-style tea with the many visual photos and diagrams. This presentation will help us comprehend the true meaning of Sukiya, and its special meaning for Japanese gardens in America.