Meaning as Use in Contemporary Private Residential Architecture in Japan, by Antonina Ilieva

It is only logical and yet oftentimes limiting that the dialogues on how to make architecture that is best reflective of, and responsive to, people’s life at any given moment in time, shifts between arguments usually perceived as polar opposites – the city and nature, the poetic and the pragmatic, architecture as art and architecture as socio-economical science. It was not until after World War II that the architectural profession as such came into existence in Japan and this mere fact could imply an updated understanding of architecture in Japan as compared to the historically developed one in the West. With a few exceptions belonging to early Japanese modern architecture of grand gestures, like that of Kenzo Tange and the Metabolists, Japanese architecture is very much on the un-heroic level and closer to human experience. A similar careful attention to ‘ordinariness’ is shared by Ludwig Wittgenstein in the proposal of the use theory.

The goal of this study is to place Japanese architects’ thorough and continuous exploration of private domestic architecture as an immediate reflection of use and identity in the light of Wittgenstein’s phenomenology, and to acknowledge the contribution of Japanese architecture to a more down-to-earth, tangible and updated reading of architectural phenomenology supported by living examples of built architecture. As evident in the nature of Japanese scientific enquiry into dwelling all the way from Wajiro Kon to the Street Observation Society, phenomenology in Japanese contemporary architecture is not so much a poetic reflection on dwelling but a dexterous practice of literal phenomenon-ology with a great deal of sobriety in the recognition of the contemporary phenomena that affect human interaction with the life-world. The study intends to trace the evolution of the Wittgensteinian notion of meaning in private residential architecture as witnessed in the systematic continuous efforts of more than one generation of architects in Japan to endow dwellers with architectural experiences that speak to their intuitive knowledge of the world (meaning in context), instead of evoking their rational acquired knowledge about architecture (trivial meaning).

Antonina Ilieva

Harvard Citation Guide: Ilieva, A. (2015) Meaning as Use in Contemporary Private Residential Architecture in Japan, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 21 June 2015, Available at: [Accessed: 21 June 2015].

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