27th Apr 2018 — A Brief Study into Japanese Joinery

A Brief Study into Japanese Joinery


SWA launched their first research stimulation grant before Christmas 2017. The winning research proposal explored Japanese joinery through the construction of a table, now displayed in and itself displaying models in SWA’s exciting exhibition lobby. The design and making of the table was driven by a curiosity of timber joinery with the ambition to learn and understand the craftsmanship involved. It uses previous research carried out for a thesis in architecture around Japanese joinery to draw attention to the importance of craftsmanship and its potential to create beautiful structures / spaces.


A Brief Introduction into Japanese Joinery

Unlike many other traditional joinery methods, Japanese joinery has up until recently remained a secretive craft amongst closely knitted carpentry families in Japan. The intricate joints are made with precision and skill, using different end, corner and intermediate joints to carefully counteract loads and torsions. Components assemble like puzzles to form intelligent structures, which are known to be amongst some of longest surviving structures today. As opposed to standard forms of timber construction, Japanese joinery does not rely on permanent fixtures such as screws, nails and glues. Instead joints are firmly secured through interlocking connections and rely on material properties to withstand forces.

Thanks to 3d visualisations, the complexities behind these forms have been revealed to crafters and makers alike, providing the potential to reintroduce Japanese joinery into buildings. Architect pioneers Shigeru Ban and Kengo Kuma use modern methods such as 3d printing to recreate traditional Japanese structures and reinvigorate their presence in modern Architectural designs.


The Zurich headquarters of Swiss media company Tamedia - Shigeru Ban
Crafting SWA's Exhibition Table

The research project at SWA explores and celebrates the cross disciplinary nature of Japanese Joinery through the construction of a simple post and slot joint. The table’s design can be easily mounted and demounted, offering the flexibility and robustness needed for displaying work that will subsequently change.

Crafted at the East London School of Furniture Making over 4 evening maker’s sessions, the prototype demonstrates the reuse of materials and advantages of portable design. Material were sourced from rummaging around timber yards and negotiating offcuts from the school, allowing the design to be both affordable and sustainable. Softwoods were selected during the process to ensure the tables lightweight properties, enabling the flat pack table to be transported across London to SWA’s exhibition lobby.

Post and Slot Joint
Assembly and Transportation of Exhibition Tale
Flatpack Table Transported across London
Table in use at SWA's exhibition lobby

With its modest natural grain finish, the exhibition table has provided an exciting glimpse into timber joinery, otherwise unexperienced behind a desk. The prototype offers the potential to be part of a wider research series into timber joinery for SWA’s lobby. Demonstrating the reuse of materials, flexible design and celebrating timber as a material, the project illustrates how old knowledge can be reinvigorated through new technology.