A peek into the curious world of dogs and design at Japan House London

Architecture for Dogs — a one-of-a-kind curation of architectural designs aimed at dogs and their owners — is making its European debut at Japan House London until 10 January 2021. Dog in tow, we experience this innovative exhibition for ourselves.

By Laura Randall
Published 4 Dec 2020, 11:00 GMT
Architecture for Dogs showcases pieces created by some of the world's leading architects.

Architecture for Dogs showcases pieces created by some of the world's leading architects. 

Photograph by Japan House London

My sausage dog, Sergio, is the Victor Meldrew of hounds. He’s been a grumpy old man since he was a puppy. He despises people, seldom tolerates fellow four-legged friends and detests being out of the house. So a trip to the internationally acclaimed Architecture for Dogs exhibition at Japan House London was always going to take him out of his comfort zone. However, this is an exhibition designed exclusively for his kind — perhaps the lack of canine architecture in his life is the reason for his melancholy?

The mastermind behind this unusual idea is Kenya Hara, one of Japan’s leading designers and President of Nippon Design Center. His vision was to create an opportunity for fans of architecture and dogs to intersect. After all, we’ve made human-sized architecture for humans, now isn’t it time we made dog-sized architecture for dogs?

Hara’s idea snowballed, and the world’s greatest, most-celebrated architectural minds were jumping at the chance to craft their own piece of genius around the needs and wants of their beloved pets. Architecture for Dogs has since travelled the world (think Miami, Shanghai and São Paolo) and everyone from Shigeru Ban (known for creating shelter for flood victims using structures made of paper) to renowned British architect Asif Khan has contributed to the exhibition. It has also been captured in an online virtual exhibition, meaning you can now enjoy it from wherever you are in the world.

“I’m won over as soon as I see a bed designed to blend into the cotton candy fur of a bichon frise. It’s wonderful. If architecture, like art, is supposed to make you feel something, then this piece has succeeded.”

In Japan, good design is everywhere. Architecture is just one of those luxuries, and the Japanese happen to do it better than most. From sushi to ceramics, appliances to architecture, there’s something surreal in every curve, and it’s hard not to feel instantly relaxed when immersed in the country’s works of structural art. I was hoping this sense of deep appreciation for human talent might rub off on Sergio.

As we walk through the doors of Japan House London, that calming familiarity of flawless Japanese style transports me away from the bustle of High Street Kensington. I look at Sergio. His face is awash with indifference.

Once inside, I’m won over as soon as I see a bed designed to blend into the cotton candy fur of a bichon frise. It’s wonderful. If architecture, like art, is supposed to make you feel something, then this piece has succeeded.

Another standout piece is Dog Cooler by Hiroshi Naito, a renowned Japanese architect known for his modernist creations. It’s a structure made of ice-cold metal pipes and wood that bends to the contours of your dog so they can relax and cool down.

But the leader of the pack is a work that looks as if it was designed just for me and my faithful friend. Created by the Tokyo-based Atelier Bow-Wow, the wooden structure is a folded slope, with one ramp for me to lounge on, and a top platform for Sergio. The thinking behind the piece is that dogs with short legs are never at our eye level, so the ramp to the top platform allows dogs to sit at the same height as their owners.

In the interactive room, Sergio gets to experience the ramp. Suspicious at first, I tempt him on top with half a biscuit and we relax on our respective platforms. I try to stare into his eyes, but they’re fixed firmly on the other half of the biscuit in my hand. Eventually, I give him the treat. Next, we explore every installation in the interactive area using the same technique — me throwing a biscuit deep within each piece, Sergio fearfully assessing the structure before venturing inside to retrieve his reward for bravery.

By the end, Sergio is barking at any dog who also dares to test the installations. Some might say he’s being territorial, but I’m taking it as a sign of his cultural awakening. He’s simply telling his fellows about the joys of canine architecture.

The playful exhibition is running until 10 January at Japan House London.

Photograph by Japan House London

What else to do at Japan House London

Buy Japanese products
Japan House London is your chance to visit Japan without leaving the capital. Make the most of the shop here, which is filled with Japanese products created by artisans, designers, artists and craftspeople.

Sip some afternoon tea
The upstairs restaurant, AKIRA, features all the classics — sushi, bento boxes and Wagyu beef are all on the menu. But it’s the Japanese-style Afternoon Tea, with a selection of teas, sushi and desserts, that really wows.

Experience the unexpected
You can’t visit Japan House London without experiencing the toilets. With heated seats, water features and functions that require framed instructions, they’re the perfect way to enjoy some cutting-edge Japanese technology.

Architecture for Dogs runs until 10 January 2020. For more information, and to book a slot, visit the Japan House London website. 

This content is created for our partner. It does not necessarily reflect the views of National Geographic, National Geographic Traveller (UK) or its editorial staff

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