Review: Barbican’s Japanese House provides a warm welcome

We might be a little late to the party, but after a busy period of Easter holiday fun, we finally gave ourselves the time to visit Barbican’s first major UK exhibition of Japanese domestic architecture.

The Japanese House: Architecture and Life after 1945, promises a feast of modern and contemporary design. The exhibition features over 40 renowned architects as well as a centrepiece in the form of a full-size recreation of the 2005 Moriyama House, designed by award-winning architect Ryue Nishizawa.

If like us, your knowledge of contemporary architecture could scarcely fill the back of a matchbox, do not fear. The beautiful thing about this exhibition is its accessibility. You definitely don’t need any prior knowledge to appreciate what’s on offer, all you need is a love of design, an interest in the built environment around you and a keen sense of adventure to let yourself and your companion explore.

So, what should you expect?

A brilliant activity sheet
Anyone who has visited Barbican Art Gallery before will know that it is a sizeable space. On this rare occasion, however, the team have played an absolute blinder and devised a fantastic activity sheet to guide you through the more technical upper floor. Starting in the upstairs gallery Inhabiting the Experimental, there’s a chance for little ones to choose their favourite house, peer inside curious models and take some inspiration to draw or design their own.

Plenty of video installations
For my young companion, any screen based installation is a big draw, and there’s plenty of this on offer to keep wide eyes mesmerised. There’s film snippets of Japanese home dramas – devised with minimal plot to simply show off abodes, and a host of beguiling manga cartoons, with video cleverly peppered throughout the exhibition, allowing you time and space to take-in the panels on the wall.

An awe-inspiring Japanese House
Downstairs, the exhibition centrepiece will be met with a shriek of excitement, followed by an opportunity to weave a curious path through Mr Moriyama’s house and garden. Whether marvelling at his well stocked kitchen, perusing his extensive belongings or giggling at his tiny bath, there’s more fun than Ikea to be had here. Move from room to room and ponder the incredible use of space, as well as exploring its garden pathways, hidden terraces and private courtyards.

A tea house as good as a tree house
Set within the garden of the Moriyama House, the tea house is a new commission designed especially for the Barbican by architect and historian Terunobu Fujimori. Featuring a beautiful hand-charred timber exterior, visitors are invited to play ‘house’ through climbing up inside its stark plastic interior and peering out of the circular tinted windows, waving at fellow visitors below.

The gallery environment is also transformed every 30 minutes by lighting that mimics dawn to dusk, ensuring that every visitor can experience the magic of these buildings across any one day.

What should you be aware of before visiting with young children?

Rules are rules
Although very family friendly and highly interactive, the ‘no touching, just looking’ rule should still apply. Yes, you can weave through the arches, climb stairs and explore rooms, but discourage little ones from touching the models or moving items found within the house. If cushions, futons and bunny chairs are devoid of items, you’re welcome to try them out for size, but steps obstructed with books and nik-naks stuck down with glue, give a good indication of what’s acceptable here.

Stick to the paths
The garden area has some fun pathways marked out by stones and interesting doorways to pass through. Be mindful not to walk on the stones, or open and close doors, to protect little fingers and delicate exhibits.

Lose the shoes
When entering the tea house, shoes have to be removed and set aside, but should be hastily put back on as you exit. It’s also one way in and one way out, with numbers limited at busy times.

With such a wealth of space beyond the gallery itself, from the foyers to the fountains, the conservatory and the Curve, the Barbican is such a fantastic destination for families. It is, however, easy to be put off by the often over-zealous front of house team, or the unfavourable reactions of the regular patrons. The experiential nature of this exhibition, however, appears to have turned this temporarily on its head, attracting far more younger visitors and with it, a slightly more relaxed approach from the hosts. Add this safety in numbers aspect, together with the peace and serenity that ensues from exploring a home unscathed by tut and toys, and this house will feel like a home in no time, and one you’ll want to return to again, and again, and again.

The Japanese House Architecture and Life after 1945 is at Barbican Art Gallery, Barbican Centre until 25th June.
Admission Adult £14.50, Children 14+ £10, Children under 14 Free.
Sat to Weds 10am to 6pm, Thurs & Fri 10am to 9pm.
Bank Holiday times vary. See website for details

Advertisements

5 Arts Aloud Easter Treats

This Easter, Arts Aloud is going Stateside, hoping to bring you the best of the US family-friendly arts scene. Whilst I am away, here are 5 Easter treats that I don’t want you to miss.

My First Ballet: Swan Lake, Sadlers Wells
The icing on the cake of Sadlers Wells’ Spring season, My First Ballet is an exciting collaboration with English National Ballet inviting children as young as three to experience an adaptation of a classic ballet production for the first time ever. Narrators and shortened musical scores help little ones to follow proceedings in the relaxed space of the Peacock Theatre (2-12 April, Tickets £10-£20, Advance booking essential).

The Idol by Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, New Abbey Leisure Centre
Commissioned by Create, this world-beating 3-storey soft play area devised by Turner Prize nominee Chetwynd, centres around a fantastical creature called The Idol and invites children to explore his monochrome world through a series of walkways, chambers and ramps (Year-round, Centre Opening Times: Mon-Fri 6.30am-10pm, Sat & Sun 8am-9pm, check website for specific session times)

Magnificent Obsessions, Barbican Art Gallery
Providing unique insight into the influences and obsessions of a range of artists, this awe-inspiring exhibition brings together popular collectables, rare artefacts and one-of-a-kind curiosities and is sure to pose a challenge to any curious toddler (12 Feb-25 May, Adults £12, Under 12s free, Concessions available, Advance Booking Recommended)

The Boy Who Bit Picasso, The Albany (Deptford Lounge)
A heartwarming story of a young boy who became friends with one of the greatest artists who ever lived, this interactive theatre show is packed with music and storytelling as well as the chance to make your very own masterpiece. Dress for mess!
(9-10 April, 12.30pm & 2.30pm, Tickets £7, Family Ticket £24, Recommended age 4+)

Chorus, Southbank Centre
If you’re one week into the school holidays and already struggling, bring some harmonious melodies to the heart of your family through the Southbank Centre’s annual Chorus festival. Celebrating the power of singing together, the festival plays host to a range free events and family workshops including your chance to be one of 1000 voices filling Royal Festival Hall on Easter Sunday (Until 12 April, Free, Suitable for all ages).

Happy Easter! Looking forward to hearing about your adventures.

*Ticketed activities are subject to availability at the time of publication.