Influence of Japanese Architecture

Updated April 11, 2017

Chinese architecture influenced design throughout Asia, including the island nation of Japan. The frequent earthquakes that rattle Japan changed its architecture out of necessity. Adaptations to the climate and geography of Japan gave the nation its own style of design and building. The influence of Japanese architecture is seen in the work of Western architects in the 20th century. Architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Rohe and the Brothers Greene included Japanese influences in their work.

Frank Lloyd Wright

One of the 20th century's most famous architects, Frank Lloyd Wright first visited Japan in 1905. Through his studies, Japanese art and architecture may have influenced him even before his visit. Japanese aesthetics can be found in much of Wright's work. Wright used screens as elements in his interiors, and he changed the basic flow of residences from the Victorian style of front to back and top to bottom to a horizontal flow with the main living area in the central area of the design.

Joints and Horizontality

Two major concepts of Japanese architecture entered Western architecture and flourished. The Japanese design concept of horizontality can be found throughout American residential architecture of the 20th century, such as flat roofs with eaves on a horizontal plane. The Japanese style of forming joints in corners also appears in 20th-century Western architecture, used instead of the standard L-shaped corner. In Japanese style the corners of a building can both bear weight and be ornamental. Wright experimented in many of his homes with the Japanese style of corner joints, most evident in his famous commission Falling Water.

Sliding Doors

Because of the frequency of earthquakes in Japan, walls in residences were made of cardboard or thick paper to prevent heavy walls crumbling during tremors. Doors between rooms slid on a horizontal axis with a very wide entryway, which was completely different from the Western idea of doors that opened either in or out. Western doorways were also usually only as wide as one person. The Japanese concept of wide doorways with sliding doors or screens appears in Western architecture throughout the 20th century.


One of the greatest influences of Japanese architecture flows through the schools of modernism. Modern architects such as Mies van der Rohe took the simplistic, organic designs of Japanese residential architecture and worked it into their iconic 20th-century designs. One of the first and most famous buildings to introduce this concept to the world was the German Pavilion at the 1929 World's Fair in Barcelona, Spain.

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