For sale – a slice of Japan

The architecture of the Far East is increasingly influencing British developers. Gwenda Brophy reports

In his book The Architecture of Happiness, Alain de Botton defines the essence of Japanese architecture and interiors as simplicity, efficiency, modesty and elegance. The resulting sense of calm order and flowing space are, here in the UK, something we have tended to admire from afar. However, in stressful and recession-ridden times, an increasing number of developers and architects are looking to the Far East for inspiration.

For Chris Thompson, of eco-firm Citu, his visit to Japan marked a defining moment – as it had for many other developers. "In Tokyo, each building has a personality of its own, refusing to conform, yet they all work beautifully together," says Thompson. "Small plots and the high cost of land demand ingenuity, and produce some fantastic uses of space and light. And even though Tokyo is one of the world's largest and loudest cities, we noticed a surprising degree of calm. It just felt like a great combination of elements to bring home."

Back in Britain, his ambitious plan was to recreate these in a building close to Leeds city centre. The result was Tao, meaning "creative harmony". This three-storey building was slotted into a brownfield site, inside and out "reflecting the purity of Japanese design and style", with, for example, no radiators cluttering the walls in the six apartments full of white, light surfaces.

The building's striking contemporary looks led to accolades from the City and the Royal Institute of British Architects, but far from being a one-off, the small-scale Tao has acted as a large-scale catalyst for other projects. "We learnt so much from it, mainly because we were pushing boundaries," Thompson says.

Citu's new development, Greenhouse, has 172 units. "We've adapted what we did for Tao and the level of sustainability outstrips anything we've ever done before. There is bamboo flooring, which looks fantastic and is a great sustainable product since it grows more densely than traditional hardwoods per square foot – and it grows back within six years," says Thompson.

A key feature of Japanese use of space is increasingly being seen in new developments. Dekra, an upmarket developer specialising in penthouses, have incorporated Japanese-style fusuma sliding doors to effect at The Penthouse, in St John's Wood, London. The award-winning, three-bedroom apartment with a 360-degree vista from the wraparound balcony on top of the art deco apartment building, priced at £4.25m, has vast lateral living and entertaining space that can be concealed or revealed as required.

The use of temporary screens allows even greater flexibility to redraw rooms. Michael Pearson, of the Shoji Studio, a company selling the screens, says their style, simplicity and marriage of form and function "make them ideal for dividing areas into clearly defined, separate living areas that also allow a natural flow of diffuse light. They are also easy to move, and creating different moods by the use of back-lighting can transform even modest living spaces."

The company's Shoji Cube – where more than one screen is combined – was, says Michael, "a response to the increase in studio apartments. In addition, a shoji screen is not considered a permanent structure, so it does not impinge on planning conditions. The Shoji Cube structurally takes up very little room, and creates a light and airy feel to the space."

Free-flowing space was at the heart of the conversion specialist City & Country Group's The Manor near Newmarket. Formerly a Japanese school, the group converted The Temple, a later addition with its copper roof, bamboo interior doors and sliding glass doors, on to the decked terrace overlooking the Japanese garden with waterfall and bridge to the tea house.

Yukiko Yoshimura, a business adviser who has incorporated elements of Japanese style into her and her husband's home in Royal Birkdale, says "a traditional tatami floor mat – still a very important element of Japanese homes – can look stylish, and you can now get these here from companies like Tatami UK. A low table and cushions creates informal space, while a futon stored behind sliding doors means you can get extra use as a guest room."

"Exterior space is also highly important in Japan, and as well as its aesthetic value, it is also low maintenance", says Yukiko. Developers in Plymouth imaginatively incorporated a Japanese style with an entrance atrium with pergolas, gravelled areas and seating, a "transition" space between outside bustle and the apartments, while in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, a Japanese Garden at Castle Village retirement development, centred around a koi pond and summerhouse pavilion, is a tranquil oasis, with acers and monkey puzzle trees, bonsai garden, oriental bridges and the sound of trickling water. Some 150 properties are set within the grounds, priced from £235,000 for a one-bedroom apartment to £350,000 for a two-bedroom cottage.

It seems the appeal of Japanese style is cutting across geographical, and property-price boundaries – but the fact that planners have also begun to embrace it, rather than demand that new developments are pastiches or narrowly contextual, is the real breath of fresh air.

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
Arts and Entertainment
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home