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Investigating historic Japanese Architecture

The TU Wien is planning a photogrammetric survey of historically important models of traditional Japanese buildings. One of them will be on display at the Weltmuseum Wien from October 25.

Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (former Kuroda family daimyo yashiki, early 1870s. [3]

Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (former Kuroda family daimyo yashiki, early 1870s. [3]

Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (former Kuroda family daimyo yashiki, early 1870s. [3]

There are still some secrets to be unveiled about those remarkable models of traditional Japanese buildings, which were crafted for display at World Exhibitions and the like from the middle of the 19th to beginning of the 20th century. One of them, a large-scale (3,03 x 4,58m), meticulously detailed model of a daimyô mansion (buke hinagata) made for the Vienna World Exhibition in 1873, has been restored with support from the TU Wien and will be exhibited at a newly conceived showroom dedicated to Japan at the turn from a feudal system to a modern state.

The TU Wien has formed a research team of experts in architecture and photogrammetry to scientifically investigate this model using cutting-edge photogrammetry survey techniques. The aim is to measure and then compare it with another outstanding example of Meiji period Japanese model-making, the Taitokuin Mausoleum Model (Royal Collection, UK), made for display at the Japan-British Exhibition of 1910 and now on long-term display  at the temple of Zojoji in Tokyo.

Daimyô and Shogun
“The models in question are the residence of a daimyo (feudal lord) and the mausoleum of a shogun”, explains Iris Mach, head of the Japan Austria Science Exchange Center (JASEC) at TU Wien. These models represent buildings of the Edo period (1603-1868) which do not exist anymore. After its more than 200-year long closure to the rest of the world (called “sakoku”), Japan was eager to present itself at World Exhibitions with deliberately elaborate models, which mostly remained in the respective countries.

These models are not only interesting from the viewpoint of architectural history, but also for model building techniques. Therefore, the aim of the research project is to extract information about the models themselves (regarding scaling, proportions, materials, details, etc.) as well as the referenced buildings by means of a very close range photogrammetric survey in combination with an architectural analysis. Regarding the photogrammetry, this poses a number of technical challenges, namely the relatively small scale, inaccessibility of interior building parts, lack of light, repetitive surface patterns, flamboyant coloring and partly shiny materials, which have partly been solved (e.g. for surgical applications), but not in their simultaneous appearance. These problems will be tackled by the development of a small-scale, self-propelled vehicle carrying one or more camera modules.

The team of TU Wien, coordinated by JASEC (Iris Mach), includes the Institute of Architecture and Design (Klaus Zwerger), the Institute of Art and Design (Florian Rist), the Institute of History of Art, Building Archaeology and Restoration (Irmengard Mayer) and the Department of Geodesy and Geoinformation (Norbert Pfeifer). The team will be supported by an expert on traditional Japanese architecture, Professor William Coaldrake of the University of Tokyo. He made the definitive identification of the Vienna model in 2003, and led the restoration of the Taitokuin Mausoleum Model on behalf of the Royal Collection Trust in 2013-16.

In his recent research, Coaldrake has already identified suggestive architectural similarities between the daimyô yashiki model housed at the Weltmuseum and the principal Edo (former Tokyo) city yashiki (mansion) of the Kuroda family, who were daimyô or hereditary lords of the domain of Fukuoka in northern Kyushu. Their mansion was a large building complex located close to Edo Castle, which was later converted to serve as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the new Meiji Government, shortly before the Vienna Exhibition was being held in 1873. Although it no longer survives, a photograph of the early 1870s reveals that the roof of the entrance (genkan or kuruma-yose) had a curved gable with triangular gable behind, each crowned with a monumental roof tile, which are also features of the entrance to the front building of the Vienna model.

The research team will compare the Kuroda daimyô yashiki and the Vienna model using photographs, plans and paintings held in historical archives in Fukuoka City to place the model in the context of comparable daimyô mansions.

Photo credits:
[1] KHM-Museumsverband
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, 2017
[3] Jissha tento goji nenshi, 1917

Further Information:
Dr. Iris Mach
Senior Scientist
JASEC - Japan Austria
Science Exchange Center
TU Wien
Karlsplatz 13, 1040 Vienna
T: +43-1-58801-406107