Yakisugi, the heritage Japanese building material, is currently enjoying a surge of popularity across Europe and North America.
Put simply, Yakisugi is cedar that has been charred to preserve the wood. It’s currency in Japan wasn’t actually founded on aesthetics but upon practicalities. Charring the wood makes it water-resistant, virtually fireproof and pest-resistant too. It costs very little to produce Yakisugi and, as such, many Yakisugi properties in Japan tend to be rustic buildings – grain stores, livestock barns and farm-worker dwellings. As such, the rural technique doesn’t have the same caché in metropolitan Tokyo and Osaka as it does in the West.
Some prominent contemporary architects, like Terunobu Fujimori, embrace the Japanese cultural idiosyncrasy of charred wood. In 2006, Fujimori exhibited his Yakisugi Church at the Venice Biennale to a receptive panel, earning his installation special mention from the judges. His unveiling of an ostensibly fresh aesthetic to European audiences was received enthusiastically by visitors and judges alike, establishing the grassroots of the Western expressions of Yakisugi.
It’s hard to summarise the visceral response to a blackened building. The double-bluff of the normal associations (a burned-out building) with the expensive fixings and fittings, the confidence of the building’s appearance that suggests fortification, not destruction.
Its complexity is impressive and justifies the proliferation of the obsidian, sloe and slate exterior. But Yakisugi can also be used on interiors and this is something that is becoming more prevalent too. Upscale New York wine-bars sport Yakisugi bathrooms, high-rise apartments feature Yakisugi walls, conservatory spaces offset their brightness with wall-hung Yakisugi driftwood.
Gardens are the perfect spaces to be playful with the material too – particularly oriental-themed gardens. Any blackened sculptural elements will foreground greenery and add a layered, designed decadence to the space.
Fences and decking look incredibly impressive when presented as Yakisugi but are more demanding of upkeep, particularly if you favour the scaled ‘alligator’ finish. Although attractive, deploying Yakisugi in these areas will require a lot of preparation and regular oils to keep the installations looking immaculate. Josh Smith, editor and owner of Shizenstyle, writes that ‘there are faux decking materials out there that would probably need less upkeep in the long run’. Indeed, premier design-led decking companies like Millboard offer Burnt Cedar boards, which give exactly the same impression without the need for maintenance. Mineral-resin based boards like these won’t ever split, rot or host algae. They are also water-resistant, providing more design flexibility as the boards can even be used within water features or to face bridges over ponds and pools.
Regardless of whether you opt for authentic Yakisugi or for mineral-resin based boards, both will last longer and need less maintenance than the alternative: untreated or oiled timber cladding. The beauty and the resilience of both options contribute to making the aesthetic ever more sought after, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see it used in more novel and innovative ways over the coming years. Yagisuki is a commanding building material, a low-carbon-footprint product and an inspiring haute-interior/exterior cladding. Wherever it appears, it draws our attention on a multi-sensory level.
As ever, Pinterest is a treasure trove of inspiration so why not dive in to see the interesting ways that others have utilised the material? From doors to benches, the material can be used for pretty much anything you can dream up.