Duong Nguyen

The minimalist approach found in traditional Asian design has long found a home in contemporary archtiecture.

Twisting Courtyard by Arch Studio in China

Recent decades have marked a rise of Eastern philosophy and ideology in design and especially in contemporary architectural shapes. This year’s prestigious Pritzker Award, considered the Nobel Prize of architecture, went to veteran Japanese architect Arata Isozaki. He is the eighth Japanese winner in then award’s 46 years, illustating the appreciation of the Western academic community for Asian architects.


Many Asian cultures emerged with a philosophy of metaphors and minimalism to grasp the “spirit” and essence of things, creating poetic images.

Minimalism, which has been praised and promoted a singature Nordic aesthetic as is also familiar to the cultures of Japan and Korea. At the same time that Western art developed its brilliant Renaissance in the 16th century, the Zen way of thinking had been instilled in Japan with a completely opposite approach, where details were minimalized, the expression of emotions was moderated and the beauty of balance and harmony was respected.  

The language of minimalism was refined over time, through the process of cultural exchange to form the basis of modern architecture, which is reflected by the famous quote “Less is more” by famed German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. When materials and shapes are deliberately moderated, a channel emerges for concepts to come forth out.

Tianjin Binhai Library by MVRDV + Tianjin Urban Planning and Design Institute


Architects and designers pursuing modernism must ponder a big question: how to create silence amidst countless structures in a world that is rapidly changing and developing. The application of experience and knowledge passed down from previous generations has to be accompanied by the exploration and application of modern materials and techniques in order to build structures with a reasonable solution and aesthetic appeal.

Architect Kengo Kuma is known as one of the leading representatives of Japanese contemporary architecture, who is known for his innovate use of both traditional materials such as wood and glass to more contemporary ones such as concrete.

Japanese traditional architecture often focuses on rhythm and light via the use of materials according to specific conventions with different materials, which Kuma explores in his work. The Stone Museum in Nasu is a good example of this perspective as it was built from many layers of stone to change the light inside the structure.

In early 2019, the world’s art community mourned the loss of Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei, the architect behind the famed Louvre Pyramid in Paris, among countless other landmark projects. After emerging as the winner of the Louvre project over many other proposals from famous architects at the time, he built a minimalistic structure in stark contrast with the surroundings, and it quickly became one of the architectural symbols of the modern world. With this simple yet powerful artistic manifesto, Pei became the pride of Asian architects all over the world.

Gad line studio in Hangzhou, China


As the whole world is paying close attention to environmental issues, the responsibility weighs even more heavily on the shoulders of the architect. Rather than merely addressing functional and aesthetic issues, modern architecture now also has to work towards a new goal of being environmentally friendly. It is in this aspect that the beauty of minimalism truly shines. With a fast pace of development, Asian minimalistic architectural structures are increasingly acknowledged for rationality in structure, wisdom in use and treatment of materials, and a respect for nature.

A long-standing aesthetic philosophy becoming a guiding principle in contemporary design highlights the continuing value of heritage in a new era.