How japanese woodcarver yukihiro akama sculpts his enchanting tiny houses

Designboom_ Between March 9 and June 30, 2024, Yorkshire Sculpture Park will be exhibiting 55 intricately crafted wooden houses by Japanese woodcarver Yukihiro Akama. This new collection, titled Basho no Kankaku – A Sense of Place, displays sculptures of varying sizes — ranging from just 4 cm (slightly bigger than a 50p piece) up to 106 cm — alongside a series of architectural drawings and mini prints developed by the woodcarver himself. Described as his largest exhibition to date, Akama’s creations undeniably echo childlike expressionism and a kind of reverence for the natural world, from which he endlessly seeks inspiration.

Having studied at the Tohoku University of Art and Design in Yamagata, Japan, Yukihiro Akama began his career as an architectural technician. There, he dedicated his time to building a house on a plot of land he owned, rich in native Japanese trees, with wild fruits and mushrooms, creating a shelter that belongs in woodland forest settings – amid the quiet and the rural. In 2011, he and his family moved to the UK, captivated by Yorkshire’s wildlife nature and green landscapes. This new chapter reignited the memories of the rural house, magnifying Akama’s need to work with his hands as a maker using traditional tools. Over time, he began pursuing an alternative lifestyle and career, eventually landing at a furniture maker’s workshop in Huddersfield, where he creates his singular houses, carving each one from a single piece of wood. According to Akama, it takes him anywhere between three hours and three days to complete one sculpture.

Yukihiro Akama begins his work with a hand drawn sketch on an off-cut of oak, walnut, sapele, iroko or maple. As he explains, the wood often dictates the starting point for the designs, with the knots or grain guiding where he cuts and carves. Gradually, they take on the appearance of a house – often low and long or tall with stilt-like legs and large roofs, sometimes cantilevered out. Delicate and intricate detailing of clay render and pebbles minimally decorate and enhance the surfaces, adding to the overall effect of how precarious structures can be and the now transient and perilous nature of so many people’s lives. Inspiration comes from many sources for these fantastic creations, but much comes from Japanese temples and shrines and particularly from Jomon-era ruins; the shapes, textures and surfaces used in this period of 4,000 years ago.

Eleven year later, following the launch of his first solo UK exhibition in 2013, Yukihiro Akama is now landing at Yorkshire Sculpture Park with his enchanting collection of 55 houses, Basho no Kankaku – A Sense of Place. For this latest collection commissioned by YSP, the woodcarver has developed a method of coloring the wood using an iron acetate solution, which reacts with the tannins to create a beautiful ebonized finish. The exhibition will run between March 9 and June 30, 2024.