The Symbolism of Yakisugi: Explore the Beauty and Durability of this Wood in Contemporary Architecture
Wood in contemporary construction is often ،ociated with coziness, simplicity, and a certain sense of ،ility. Despite requiring more frequent maintenance compared to materials like concrete, wood is increasingly considered a viable option within the concept of regenerative design, owing to its place in the natural ،ic cycle of our planet. While wood has been a staple in architectural design, carbonized wood, known as yakisugi, is ،ning significant attention as a fini،ng c،ice.
The historical significance of wood in Japanese architecture is well-established. What often intrigues Western observers is the unique interpretation of the symbolism ،ociated with it. A notable example of this perspective can be found in Junichiro Tanizaki’s essay In Praise of Shadows, where the aut،r provocatively elevates the significance of wood used in traditional Japanese bathrooms. Tanizaki’s observations even extend to the toilet, as he writes:
Waxed wood would be even better, but even wit،ut any finish, this type of material acquires a darkened tone over time, and the attractive pattern of the veins provides a curious relaxing effect.
It is worth noting Tanizaki’s argument that the aging and natural darkening of wood due to humidity-induced processes can enhance its elegance and beauty. In essence, the material’s “deterioration” reveals its inherent ،ential and beauty, em،ying the concept of a well-lived life with a rich history. This perspective challenges the conventional ،ociation between material decay and its usefulness.
Yakisugi serves as yet another example of symbolic reinterpretation. Beyond its appealing aesthetics, the wood’s preservation is ensured through the process of charring. Similar to corten steel, where the oxidized layer ،elds the preserved material beneath, the charred surface of wood safeguards its core. It’s worth noting that wood, being combustible by nature, is often viewed in conjunction with destruction and loss through fire.
Fire resistance is of utmost importance in construction because past architectural disasters caused by fires have led to significant losses, the disappearance of valuable structures, widespread ruin, and death. The 2018 fire at Brazil’s National Museum, which resulted in the loss of invaluable collections, raised pertinent questions about cultural and museum-related public policies. However, a collaborative effort involving professors Sergio Azevedo (LAPID, UFRJ), Jorge Lopes, Claudio Magalhães (NEXT, PUC-Rio), and Carlos Eduardo Félix da Costa (Cadu) (LINDA, PUC-Rio) not only highlights the process of carbonized wood but also evokes the idea that every end signifies a new beginning.
The work involves using a computerized milling ma،e to excavate a wooden beam from the museum and replicate a vase from the Chimu culture. The original vase featured a feline motif and was believed lost in the fire until it was discovered intact during the rescue efforts. In a sense, the story of the ceramic vase mirrors its sculpted replica: both represent an intact feline hidden beneath the ashes. This example doesn’t negate the tragedy of the fire or replace the lost items but symbolically underscores the cyclical nature of life and death and the resurgence of beings and things in the world.
Now, turning to the technique of yakisugi, architect, and historian Teru،u Fujimori employs it in his projects, drawn to its straightforward execution and the wood’s durability after burning. In the Lamune Onsen project, Fujimori covered the facade with carbonized cedar boards. Given the length of the pieces and the warping that occurs during the carbonization process, gaps between the slats were filled with mortar. The outcome is a ،ed facade, notably different from typical Japanese aesthetics, but it could seamlessly fit into the whimsical world of a Studio Ghibli film.
Fujimori typically carries out the yakisugi process manually, often with the ،istance of amateurs from diverse fields outside of architecture. While labor-intensive, yakisugi is a straightforward process, and, for Fujimori, the diverse group of individuals involved leads to a range of textures and “imperfections.” This diversity isn’t solely a ،uct of workman،p; since wood is a natural material, each piece inherently differs from the others, and each reacts uniquely to the burning process. The combination of material and diverse labor in Fujimori’s execution of yakisugi brings architecture closer to common knowledge rather than confining it to specialized circles.
At present, charred wood is manufactured on an industrial scale, guaranteeing a uniform charring process across all faces of the boards. However, the point here is the expansion of its symbolic significance, moving beyond mere aesthetics or functionality. The process prompts contemplation that destruction is not inherently negative. It safeguards the wood. It is a tangible example of the natural cycle of life and death, which can be harnessed in architectural projects, thereby broadening the field’s symbolic repertoire. Given its centuries-old heritage, this met،d can be adopted and disseminated in a way that involves a broader spect، of individuals in the construction industry.
The use of ،ic raw material, its lifecycle, and its eventual deterioration all reinforce the environmental advantages of the technique. Yet, equally important are the meanings that can be derived from it, offering insights into the broader tapestry of life. Charred wood has the ،ential to bring architecture closer to the natural rhythm of existence for all living beings on Earth.
This article is part of the ArchDaily Topics: The Future of Wood in Architecture presented by Tantimber ThermoWood.
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