Welcome to post 7 in this design and build thread for a Japanese bell tower, or shōrō. When I last left off, I had completed the eave build up for the lower roof, which consisted of a square-section kaya-oi, a rectangular uragō above that, in turn surmounted by the upper piece, the kami-uragō. I had completed all that, yet, as things turned out, I was not in fact done. Design and re-design was the reality, and as I mentioned in the last post there were a few things to figure out with that eave edge yet before I could proceed with the structural upper roof.
Some of you may be wondering why there are all these pieces at the eave edge. After all, in Western carpentry, it is typical to overlay the rafters directly with planking (or plywood in modern times) and then apply the roofing to that substrate. The eave edge is thin, to say the least, unless a covering fascia is applied and a gutter (which blocks the view of the fascia, does it not?).
While there are several important differences architecturally between Japanese and the western vernacular architecture, one of the most primary is that of where the emphasis is placed. In Western architecture, the house is essentially a decorated box, as a certain F.L. Wright said some years back. That elaboration and ornament of the building revolves around the fenestration – how the facade of the building is configured, how the windows are placed/aligned, how the doors are visually framed, what pattern of window muntins are used, what paint or siding is to be specified, etcetera. The roof, particularly since the advent of modernism, has become reduced greatly in emphasis. It’s just a lid on a pot so to speak.
As I understand it, the disillusionment that followed the first World War in Europe led to a certain ideological perspective in the influential design houses of the day. This perspective rejected hierarchy and authoritarian social structures in favor of more socialist ideas, design for the “common man” (= cheap) and so forth. The eave on the roof was considered by these designers to be symbolic of the crown, so, for that reason, the eave was eliminated as a design idea and the flat plane roof without eave came to be the favored choice. A case of ideology trumping reason once again. The eave helps the rain water avoid running down the walls after all. The roof does need to keep the weather out, or at least one would think so.
This affectation lingers on in the west, even in non-modern style structures. The roof is largely an irrelevant architectural feature. The eave, if there is one invariably features a monotonous white perforated metal soffit, and the only function to having a thicker eave edge might be for mounting gutters. Yes, I simplify the argument a bit here, for brevity’s sake.
In Japan, the roof is everything, whether we are looking at a thatch-roofed farmhouse (minka), or an imposing temple. The word for roof in Japanese, ya-ne, (屋根), literally means the root (根) of the house (屋). In the Japanese traditional perspective, there can be no house without a roof. That may sound obvious enough, but it goes further than mere practicalities of keeping the rain off the insides of that box.
The various elements added to the eave edge of a Japanese traditional roof are rich in diversity of form and arrangement. Depending upon roof covering material (tile, thatch, wood shingles, asphalt shingles, bark shingles, slate, metal, etc.), and how the under eave space is to be decorated, the eave edge will vary in treatment. The pile up of structural elements at the edge of the roof serve structurally to tie the rafters together at their ends, provide a space between exposed and hidden roof components into which cantilevers or other eave strengthening elements may be easily added, and convey a certain aesthetic value in and of themselves. A thicker roof edge suggests a more robust and solid roof, even if the thickness is confined only to the last 20~50 cm of the eave edge and the main body of the roof has a much thinner actual build up of roof material. That edge thickness may be acquired by stacking shingles many layers deep at the edge, or by piling up layers of wood, as I have done in this bell tower, or by a combination of the two.
One point common to both tiled and metal shingled roofs, particularly on temples, is the use of an inclined board atop the build up of eave edge fascia. This inclined board is pitched differently to the lower support pieces like the kaya-oi or uragō. It’s called a fuki-ji (葺地) – here’s a view of a roof rafter with these parts laid on top:
The rafter is on bottom in orange, the kaya-oi is in green above it, and uragō is on top of that piece in a light brown color. The fukiji is the piece in red at the very top, along with the associated thinner support board below it in yellow. Notice how the front face of the fukiji is tilted away from the front faces of both the uragō and kaya-oi. The tilt of the fukiji, in fact, is 90˚ to the line of the upper roof rafters (not pictured). The fukiji, associated to the upper roof, serves as a transition piece between the lower roof, which includes the uragō and kaya-oi.
Here’s how the fukiji is used in an application of copper roof shingling:
See how the roof shingles are continued down the face of the fukiji from the roof surface above. In fact, the copper continued right around the underside of the fukiji support board (in yellow in the first illustration) and ends at the junction with the uragō. Thus, any water that runs over the roof edge will travel down a protected surface and will drip off without having any opportunity to touch the woodwork. Another advantage to the fukiji is that it allows the field rafters to connect to it with simple square end cuts – with the kami–uragō employed instead of fukiji, the rafters need to be tapered out to a thin end to fit cleanly. It is also simpler to terminate the roof substrate onto a fukiji than onto an uragō or similar.
Here’s another example of the fukiji treatment:
So, that’s the fukiji element. Looks straightforward enough, simple even, but, things ain’t what they seem, particularly in the case of a roof with a curved eave edge towards the hip rafters. with those elements in the eave edge that tie to the lower roof, their surfaces are geometrically in plane with the rafters; thus, as the rafters rise, the fascia elements rise perpendicular to the rafter as well:
Now figuring out the curves and intersections for those parts is entertaining enough, but with the fukiji, given the fact that its face is along a different slope than the elements below it, we have the following effect when the roof edge curves up:
While the kaya-oi and uragō rise up in unison, the fukiji wants to fly south for the winter: as the roof rises, the fukiji moves further and further away from the pieces below, geometrically-speaking.
Here’s the graphical depiction of the effect of a certain amount of rise on those elements:
Notice what happens to the distance ‘A’ in the drawing, which elongates to ‘B’ at the end of the rise. The point being, looking from below at the eave edge, one can observe the parallelism of the reveal at ‘A’. If the fukiji is simply lifted up, then the gap increases, which is to say that parallelism is destroyed. This doesn’t look so good – like the upper layer was put on crookedly to the layer below. The Japanese solution to the ‘fukiji problem’, as I term it, is to bend the fukiji piece back inward so as to maintain parallelism with the uragō’s front edge .
Welcome to the curious and often very counter-intuitive world of compound layout my friends.
I first became aware of the fukiji issue on the Ellison project in 2003 or so when my co-worker Walter asked me about a section of a textbook, but one page, that mentions the matter. It has occupied my mind ever since as one of the curious layout issues that I didn’t fully comprehend, and now that I have at last the opportunity to do a structure with a copper shingled and strongly curvilinear roof form I can at last face the demon.
It’s been a struggle for the past few days getting to grips with the fukiji and learning how to correct the distortion. Here’s a shot from the drawing showing the development of the 3D part from the 2D developed plan:
So, the fukiji is an example of the dreaded double curvilinear work, and it was a slice of delight let me tell you. I still have a few hairs left after the pulling and cursing! Actually, it wasn’t so bad though I did draw it 4 times before I had the configuration and proportions I wanted.
Back in the bell tower, the kami-uragō was ditched and the new fukiji installed in its place – let’s see how that turned out.
Before (with kami-uragō) on top:
Here’s the look from up over the edge, staring at the innards:
Thanks for checking out the Carpentry Way today. Take care! –> on to post 8