From ancient Japan, a vernacular solution for the contemporary living.
The engawa , also called “en space”, is a typical element of the traditional Japanese house. It is a strip of flooring, usually made of hardwood and surrounding the house, that represents a filter between the inside and the outside.
Japanese people give a lot of importance to nature and their life-styles usually aim to harmonize with the natural world. For instance, wearing shoes made with natural materials they create a contact with the soil: geta and zōri are two kinds of Japanese sandals traditionally made of wood, rice strew and cloth.
The engawa carries out the same function of rebuilding and reinforcing the connection with nature. Not only is it a physical medium, an in-between space, it also transforms as the climate changes, because it can be kept open or it can be closed according to temperature. During the winter, it becomes something like a loggia where you can benefit from the view of the outside; in summer it’s a porch-like structure that you can walk on, enjoying the breeze and the sunlight.
Today, even in Oriental countries where there is a solid philosophical background, it’s easy to lose the connection with nature and to forget its importance. The engawa could be a solution to this, as it helps people to live according to natural rythms.
Contemporary architects in Japan and around the world are increasingly redescovering traditional architectural elements that were lost in the race to urbanization. As such the engawa has becomea key reference in several contemporary buildings, among which a building designed by Kengo Kuma stands out.
An example of modern application and reinterpretation of the engawa: First Prize of the competition Albert Kahn – Musée et Jardins, designed by Kengo Kuma and Associates.
From the architects:
“ We propose a reinterpretation of a Japanese traditional architectural element: the “Engawa”. Engawa is not a separation but a connection between interior and exterior. Delicate screens of metal and wood opens the built object towards its environment. Engawa makes the building fade into nature, frame and filter the views over the garden, and provide shaded areas that contributes to the comfort.”