Architectonics of seismicity: Building and colonial culture in Japan and Taiwan from the Meiji Period to the Second World War
Architectural tectonics and the relationship of structural expression to ornament has been one of the oldest and most consistent themes in western architectural theory. For instance, the discussions of architectonics can be seen in the foundational literature from the Classical period, is present in Neo-classical architectural styles, in debates associated with modernist architecture, and in the latest digital interpretations of architecture. Tectonics and the idea that architecture ought to draw its aesthetic effects from its structural and material composition has, as a consequence, become a normative aspect of architectural theory and practice. Yet, in many situation cultural and geographical contexts this position does not have such a normative status. This thesis examines the legacy of this theme in architectural theory and practice in the particular cultural and geographical context of Japan and Taiwan. It focuses on the colonial cultural relationship between these countries, and to the West, as well as considering the seismic conditions that govern the culture of building around the Pacific West coast – the Ring of Fire. The argument that I will propose is that although the discussion of tectonics in westernised Japan has been scanty, the attitude and strategies the Japanese adopted for designing architecture and considering the relationship between structures and architectural surfaces can be framed differently. The difference between the traditional Japanese approaches to these questions and conventional Western considerations, is, in part, related to the significance of earthquakes to Japanese culture. The two traditions are not isolated. Japan was famously quick to adopt Western technologies and knowledge in the early twentieth century. In the context of architecture and building, this relationship produced a complex hybrid architectural culture in which the Japanese developed their own construction system and their attitude to the relationship between the structures and architectural surfaces. The thesis examines a further layer to this technological and cultural hybrid by examining the relationship between Japan and its colony Taiwan. The thesis argues that Japan’s relationship to the West, and its adoption and hybridization of architectural culture is evident in a complex way through their own colonial relationship to Taiwan. Through reviewing debates on structure and ornament in architecture in the Far East, the thesis adopts the concept of skeuomorph into this theoretical frame. Locating the concept of skeuomorph in this frame and interpreting the Japanese and Taiwanese cases by this concept allows us to reconsider the normative status of architectonic principles in architectural theory, and contribute to an understanding of colonial architectural history in the East Asia.