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Kanso - Japanese philosophy & the importance of uncovering your 'design principles'

The Japanese have a unique culture with many different aspects to it. One of these is their design principles, which are the guiding philosophies behind modern day Japanese architecture.



There are five main principles that govern all forms of Japanese artistry:


  • Wabi-sabi (imperfection)

  • Seien (harmony)

  • Shizen (nature)

  • Shujo-shijo (quiet/stillness) and

  • Jikoshuuraku – (or freedom from self-consciousness)


These set of fundamental ideas were created by traditional craftsmen, and have been around since the Edo period. These principles were influenced by Zen Buddhism and Confucianism, which led to many people in Japan seeing simplicity as being elegant.

This is why you will see minimalistic designs in Japanese culture such as their architecture or even the cartoon art style known as manga.


One principle that has always stuck with me is “ma” or emptiness because it teaches us to find beauty in what we don't use and not just what we do use.


The goal of these concepts is simplicity of surroundings, which frees the mind and the soul to explore. In architecture these principles emphasize simplicity, natural materials and positive space. The idea behind this is to allow for creative spaces that make people feel as if they are living in harmony with nature.


In creating a home concept, or design, one of the first questions I ask my clients is ‘what principles, values or philosophies’ do you see as being important in your ideal home or lifestyle.


Many people struggle to answer this question right away because it may not have occurred to them how valuable this process is in creating a dream home. Often people have a visual attachment to home designs or concept they have seen elsewhere, but aside from shapes, colours and possibly materials, they struggle to articulate the values that these ideas represent.


Attaching philosophies to spaces gives them meaning, beyond physical attributes and that meaning fosters feeling and a deep connection to ones home.


When I create a home concept, using my client’s unique principles as a guide, my client’s can digitally walk through the interior and get a sense of whether their philosophies about living have been accurately reflected in the home.


Some of the Japanese principles that have flowed into my own home are;


  • Kanso – Simplicity and the elimination of clutter. Everything has a purpose and therefore my purpose in my home is always centre.

  • Datsuzoku - Transcending the conventional. This is a principle that guides my design or concept creation process each and every day, because custom homes by their very nature are not conventional.

  • Seijaku - Tranquility or an energized calm, stillness, solitude.


Life is in a constant state of flux, however the home to me represents calm, grounding and the opportunity for solitude which makes way for perspective.

Don’t forget that you’re the architect of your dreams, and your dreams are not just visual, they are sensory, they are emotional and should be guided by principles.


#architecture #homedesign #designprinciples #japanesearchitecture #houzz

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