A cultural Heritage

A cultural Heritage

Wood is one of the oldest building materials known to man.  Utilized both aesthetically and economically in art, housing, furnishings and trade, the accumulated knowledge of this material is overwhelming.  There are 20 properties inscribed on the Japanese Unesco world heritage site list.  From this list, 16 are listed as cultural properties and 4 as natural ones.  What is important to note, is that from these 16 cultural properties, 10 of them are constructed primarily from wood in the form of shrines, temples or castles.  [1]

Whether the progress of time improves the art of wood craft is disputable.  Looking back 1200 years to the ancient Japanese capital of Nara, a complex of masterfully designed timber temples and pagodas were raised , which are now listed on this prestigious list.  To this day, these structures stand as a symbol of the great minds and hands of Japan.  In continental Asia, Japan has the third largest number of Unesco world heritage with India and China holding the fast majority.  However, considering the relative size and populations of these countries, Japan holds a significant number of heritage properties per capita.


The very first properties to be listed by UNESCO were the Buddhist Monuments in the Horyu-ji area [Figure 23], all constructed from wood with some dating as far back as the late 7th or early 8th century, competing with some of the oldest surviving wooden buildings in the world.  Other wooden marvels include the tallest wooden building in Japan.  The Daibutsu Hall in Todaiji Temple [Figure 24] stands at 48 meters and houses a 250 ton, 30 meter tall bronze buddha.[2]  In contrast the current tallest wooden residential complex in Japan is only 5 stories high with a concrete first floor completed by KUS architects.[3]  Japan’s rich history of large and numerous wooden construction is not reflected in the urban scale of modern wood construction in Japan.    There are numerous factor’s for this decline which will be discussed in later sections, but with a current government endorsed promotion of large public wooden buildings and use of engineered wood, the potential for a reinvigorated wooden city exists.

[1] “Properties inscribed on the World Heritage List”  http://whc.unesco.org/
[2] “Todaiji, Nara Prefecture” http://www.sacred-destinations.com
[3] “Tokyo / shimouma” http://www.kus.co.jp/

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