Book Review: Light in Japanese Architecture

Light in Japanese Architecture by Henry Plummer
A+U, 2003
Paperback, 399 pages

Plummer's long-form essay on Japanese architecture is half visual and half text, the latter serving to frame the former into twelve chapters on different types of light. From "Moonlit Gray" to "Streams of Sun", the images eloquently convey both historical and contemporary ways of responding and manipulating light. Each chapter prefaces the full-color photographs with text that attempts to poetically convey the qualities of light, though the words are most effective when describing a specific building. Naturally, temples and residences of Kyoto predominate, their relationships to nature, use of materials and colors influencing contemporary building in Japan. While this may not seem evident with the distinct break from traditional forms that occurred in the last two centuries, it comes across in Plummer's photographs, via the less tangible qualities of light. Also naturally, Tadao Ando's buildings make up the majority of recent architecture featured in the book. His use of light and color is looked at in depth in buildings like the Water Temple, the Church of the Light, and Koshino House. Ando's architecture, while materially and formally removed from pre-Meiji structures, are a perfect embodiment of the author's idea that light is the most important element in Japanese architecture.