Eastern Promise

A 400-year-old icon of Japanese design inspires generations of modern architects.

Katsura Imperial Villa in Kyoto, Japan

The sprawling 16-acre Katsura Imperial Villa was commissioned in the 17th Century by a pair of father-son princes, and attributed to a cadre of craftsmen and consultants. Though its rich architectural language—a polychrome of woods, wallpapers, decorative plasterwork, and swooping roofs—is more resplendent than restrained, its geometric sensibility and modular construction easily aligned with the ideals of 20th-century modernists.

The sprawling 16-acre Katsura Imperial Villa was commissioned in the 17th Century by a pair of father-son princes, and attributed to a cadre of craftsmen and consultants. Though its rich architectural language—a polychrome of woods, wallpapers, decorative plasterwork, and swooping roofs—is more resplendent than restrained, its geometric sensibility and modular construction easily aligned with the ideals of 20th-century modernists. German architect Bruno Taut was perhaps the first Westerner to express his esteem for its “harmonious simplicity” in a 1933 diary entry, while Walter Gropius, who visited Katsura in 1954, wrote to Le Corbusier, “All what we have been fighting for has its parallel in old Japanese culture.” Visitors can still saunter through manicured gardens, peer into traditional tea houses, perch atop the moon viewing platform, taking in a prime work of Edo period architecture that truly endures.

Katsura by the Numbers

112: Number of tree varietals in the lush traditional tea garden

5,792: Individual trees in the complex

1955: The year Katsura opened to the public

40,000: The estimated annual visitorship

1: The number of waterfalls in the landscape design

24: Lanterns illuminate the walking paths

 

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