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on Repairing Architecture

Behind tags of social media definition

by Longhua  Gu

Abstract: Kintsugi, which is an ancient porcelain repair technique that originates from Asia, became a popular hashtag on global design media websites and platforms, and has had great influence on art works and architectural repair projects. To demonstrate this phenomenon, case studies are explored to discover the connections between the initial thoughts of design and its Kintsugi hashtags on social media platforms. Then, the philosophy of Chan and Wabi Sabi behind Kintsugi are brought in and compared with Western Patina ideological trends, to indicate the resonance between the two, and in a further step, to explain the possible reason of the popularity of Kintsugi on repairing architecture works in the western cultural background. This article attempts to touch the phenomenon of Kintsugi fever behind the social media tags, and provides a brief introduction of its trace and development in a global background.  Above all, this article is trying to bring in a broader perspective on the ideological connection of Kintsugi with the western patina philosophy on architectural restoration for artists, architects and scholars who are interested.  



Kintsugi [1] , ‮*‬ڤ継ぎ, also known as Kintsucuroi 쏜繕ㄴ is a Japanese word referring to an ancient porcelain repair technique which blends Chinese and Japanese lacquer decoration craft technique, dating back to 15th centuryImage1. At the present moment, compared with other traditional repair techniques such as stable repair (that is used in limited scope of heritage restoration), Kintsugi has been recognized as an art genre that expanded much further on both artistic creation and cultural influence factors through social media websites and articles. 


When searching for ‘Kintsugi’ on Pinterest - which is probably the most commonly used media service website for artists and designers to look for inspirations - tons of ceramic drawings and images pop out, showing  potteries carrying scar-like fissures filled with golden or silver linear decorations. There are also derivative works with Kintsugi patterning on sculptures, painting and jewellery.  Surprisingly,  there are a couple of images of architecture projects embedded in this search, including luxury restaurant interior design,  Street Lego installations, to the rebirth of a hundreds of years old mansion. In social media, Kintsugi, as an ancient technique for repairing broken porcelain, has been spread from Asia to the wider world, and has been represented as a decorative art genre.  It provides the source of inspiration to thousands of art works and building intervention projects.  Unlike being used as a technical, binding agent on ceramic objects and sculptures, Kintsugi on architectural works is normally tagged as a graphical beauty reference on websites such as Pinterest.  However, although Kintsugi tags are added to those architectural projects, the evidence of the direct influence of Kintsugi is unclear at best. In the following paragraphs, two sets of architectural restoration examples will be presented. Anahi restaurant by Maud Bury [2] and Dispatchwork by Jan Vormann [3] ,

which are cited as Kintsugi in Pinterest and other social media platforms because of their graphic similarity with Kintsugi’s actual appearance, are explored to clarify their design thinking and interpretation of Kintsugi. Then, we explore Querini Stampalia [4] by Carlo Scarpa and Splitting by Gordon Matta Clark [5], which are cited in articles in reference to the spiritual influence of Kintsugi. We will study this based on racing back to its origins and symbolic significance. 


When first entering the Anahi restaurant,  hidden in a narrow backstreet in Paris, you would not associate it with a high end Argentinan dining place or a newly finished restoration work. Its ceiling remains the former art deco design from original decoration, while walls are covered with white glazed tiles with rough, long breaks filled with gold. The way of healing the broken ceramic tiles with gold dust and appreciating the crack in a celebratory manner seems to unsuspiciously reference Kintsugi, both in beauty and technique.  Many articles label Anahi’s interior works, which were designed by Barcelona-based designer Maud Bury, as the typical Kintsugi decoration style, such as on Pinterest articles noting the so-called Kintsugi art on its walls. However, when exploring the journal entries, project introductions, or official project descriptions by Maud and Philippe Starck [6] (whom she worked alongside for nine years), Japan or Kintsugi are never mentioned . In the article on Yazter website the phrase “Kintsugi-like design” is used to describe how Bury has used copper leaf, which in time will oxidise to give a more subdued effect, to grout or fill the cracks and which ties in nicely with the solid bronze-backed chairs.


The Dispatchwork by Jan Vormann is a series of urban art installations where Legos are filled in the gaps of broken walls. During a 12 minute video interview [7] about Dispatchwork in Aberdeen UK, Jan himself never mentions the influence of Japanese ancient Kintsugi during the explanation of design thoughts. Consistent with his official website, he describes how the plastic construction pieces are used to repair and fill holes in broken walls [8]. Despite even less correlation between Kintsugi and patchworking, the tags on social media are still added on these projects.


Relating to Manuela, it is not a coincidence that Kintsugi originated and is being practised in notoriously seismic countries, where the ground may seemingly break open at any time. In this regard, the way the Japanese express Kintsugi could be configured elsewhere on earth [9].  


One example is Carlo Scarpa’s Querini Stampalia building in Venice. The golden lines, skidding door and construction details  strongly exhibit the Japanese influence  of Scarpa’s design life [10]. Additionally, the broad openings and cracks, that allow water to come in and out following the river tide, celebrate the Kintsugi spirit of healing and celebration of destructive power. In another example titled Splitting by Gordon Matta Clark, the deliberate lines of incision into the architectural body fill up with golden rays of sunlight. This is regarded as an inverted Kintsugi.


After a study of examples and projects in the western world cited as Kintsugi in public media and websites, I have concluded there is limited evidence of the direct influence of Kintsugi on the initial thoughts of most of these designers, such as  in the projects Anahi and Dispatch works. However, examples like the Querini Stampalia building and Splitting indicate there could be an underlying influence of Kintsugi as it relates to its cultural background and emerging ideological trends (such as that of Chan and Wabi Sabi). To further explore the philosophies behind Kintsugi and the connections to western trends  in architectural restoration, this article will look into its origin and trace.



From the far east of Asia to the western world, from past to present, Kintsugi has noticeably been transferred from an ancient technique to an artistic form. It has provoked widespread influence on contemporary art, and its mysterious origins and identical appearances draw the interest of the public and artists. The philosophy behind Kintsugi relates to Chan (禅) and Wabi Sabi. Chan originates from the Buddhist meditation realm in China;  Wabi Sabi (ث‮٢١‬I) originated in Chinese Taoist philosophies that emphasized and celebrated the continuous flow of the world and its impermanence, and developed in Japan as a form of fundamental appreciation of beauty. Like Kintsugi, Wabi Sabi acknowledges time and its effect on objects. Yet, whereas Kintsugi is a process, Wabi Sabi is a concept, or a state of mind [11].


The legend of Kintsugi may begin with a broken tea bowl dating back to the Song Dynasty of Ancient China. One theory is that Kintsugi may have originated when Japanese shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa sent a damaged Chinese tea bowl back to China for repair in the late 15th century. When it was returned, repaired with ugly metal staples, it may have prompted Japanese craftsmen to look for a more aesthetic means of repair [1]. 


There is also documentation of the origin and development of Urushi repair technique that is considered to be the foundation of Kintsugi. The embellishment of the Urushi repair with precious metal - Kintsugi - was a medieval innovation that became popular in the later Edo (or modern) period. It has developed since the time of the Azuchi- Momoyama period in the late sixteenth century [12]. Kintsugi‘s aesthetic appeal results from its unique use of gold or silver dressing over Urushi lacquer in a way that embellishes the appearance of the original ceramic object.  Its products are highly esteemed and used in culturally significant practices, such as the tea ceremony [13]. 


Furthermore, the appearance of Kintsugi is not only on account of technical progress and functional demand, but is also rooted in the transition of aesthetic appreciation because of social events. Ohtaki is a self-taught Kintsugi practitioner, who noted that Kintsugi’s attractiveness derives from a “beauty of imperfection” that is grounded in the Japanese aesthetic concept of Wabi Sabi [14]. Its use of visible repair is a culmination of a unique shift in Japanese material culture that began with a movement towards an aesthetic appreciation of broken and repaired objects during the time of tea master Sen No Rikyū (1522–1591) in the Azuchi-Momoyama period.  Rikyū championed cracks and damage as expressions of a dynamic life, even to the extent when function was impaired [15].  The influence was known to come from his teacher Murata Jukō, the founder of the Japanese tea ceremony. There is a specific connection between their aesthetic sensitivities and their response to war. The time in which these two masters practised was a time of near constant militancy known as the Sengaku period (c. 1467–1603), and Jukō’s concept of using simpler, Japanese-made tea utensils was embraced, at least for practical and economic reasons, by those who had seen their precious collections of Chinese wares destroyed in war [16]. 


The aesthetics of this period is noted for its “fascination with broken and mended objects” [13]. The emerging trend, which is widely known today as Wabi Sabi, has deep foundations in the current Japanese attitude towards objects and materials. This is a reaction to the prevailing aesthetics of lavishness, ornamentation, and rich materials, the art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in earthiness, of revering authenticity above all.


In this era, Kintsugi, or the invention of skilled craftsmen responding to the particular social demands and artistic trends, was used not only to fix broken china and objects, but was also used to represent the unique perception that forms the fundamental Japanese appreciation of beauty.  



While Ohtaki laments that the appreciation for used and repaired objects in Japan has been diminished since the beginning of the Showa period (1926–1989), he feels there is a recent resurgence of interest in Kintsugi, especially from young people and women in their 30s, Ohtaki has experienced increased business since demonstrating his Kintsugi-related skills on the internet [17].


Another indication of Kintsugi’s contemporary popularity in Japan is the online sale of do-it-yourself (DIY) Urushi-based Kintsugi repair kits (Mejiro Co. Ltd., 2016).

Such a “to cherish things, repair while as long as possible use” idea that, from disposable era, in recent years, which has moved into the era in which the slow life is proposed, considered along the people of life sensation. However, not only that, but this “gold piecing” is different from the western style repairs that makes the broken thing as inconspicuous as possible, by emphasizing the repaired part with expensive metal “gold”. The root of the spirit of “wabi” and “rust”, which favors imperfect beauty rather than perfection, is beyond the practical use of “restoration” and even one form of Japanese culture. [14] 


Following the Japanese cultural trend, global interest in Kintsugi is evidenced by exhibitions [Image2], art practices, and kits for commercial sale. The significance of Kintsugi for contemporary and experimental designers extends beyond emulation of its visual or material features, and lies in an understanding of Kintsugi as a practice embedded in cultural and ecological conditions [16] .  Kintsugi and Wabi Sabi, the philosophy behind it, spread in the western world and resonates with western architectural restoration theory, respecting the patina [18]  and the strategies of honest repair and intervention [19] .  Fundamentally, the two philosophies share similarities in that they focus on appreciating the imperfection of buildings or objects, respecting the marks brought by passing time.  Although not expressly sharing origins, Eastern and western conservation philosophies practically yield equivalent approaches in intervention. Moreover, the universality in acceptance of western patina and Eastern Wabi-Sabi, and Eastern Kintsugi and western legible fabric repair, convey overt signals of philosophies beyond technical performance [11] .


On the face of it, the enthusiasm of Japanese art and culture in recent years may have contributed to the popularity of Kintsugi as a representative art inspiration in the western world. Beyond projects, exhibitions and increasing tags on design websites, there are more and more discussions by educators in academia. Kintsugi has been brought from niche to popular as a concept in art work creation, and has received more attention on social media in return. However, rather than  attribute its success only to the recent trends of Japanese and Asian cultural influences, it is more convincing that Kintsugi, and its cautious appreciation of imperfect beauty, have fit into the mainstream of aesthetic ideas on the account of the patina-philosophy that has already gradually impacted the public appreciation of old objects and ancient buildings.  




Kintsugi, an ancient restoration technique of ceramic objects, developed through time as an art medium and architectural design technique to represent the appreciation of imperfect beauty on global design media platforms. Some architectural works, published on websites, directly represent this by using similar techniques, like fixing ceramic tiles to create a kind of graphic representation style (like Anahi restaurant).  Some are more metaphorical and can be traced back to the original philosophy of Chan and Wabi Sabi. Kintsugi inspirations on architectural design and interior design exist. However, projects shared globally in social media and websites which cite Kintsugi can actually have very little relation to Kintsugi itself, but represent the similar philosophy behind it (such as that of Chan and Wabi Sabi). The popularity of Kintsugi as a design concept in western academia and social media platforms conveys a transition of aesthetic attitudes about old objects and buildings in recent years. The appreciation of imperfection, which is rooted in the theory of western patina and Japanese Wabi Sabi, is the foundation of the modern design thinking behind a modern revival in renewing broken objects, historic urban fabric, and heritage buildings.  


The legend of Kintsugi dates back to the Celadon bowl ‘Mahuangban’  which was a precious gift from the ancient China empire  to Japan, then it was broken and fixed by Chinese craft technique stable repair.  It was said that a craftman in Japan improved his restoration skill and created Kintsugi regarding to salute the attitude of  cherishing  imperfect objects and appreciating passing time. This story has been the original intention for me to write this article. 

[1] Kintsugi “golden joinery”, also known as kintsukuroi (“golden repair”), is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by mending the areas of breakage with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum, a method similar to the maki-e technique.As a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise. (wikipedia)


[2] Maud Bury is a creative director and interior designer based in Barcelona, Spain


[3] Jan Vormann is a German artist who scales the globe using legos to patch up deteriorating buildings, landmarks, and anything else in need of colour.

[4] The Fondazione Querini Stampalia is a cultural institution in Venice, Italy, founded in 1869. Architect Carlo Scarpa designed interior, exterior, and garden elements and spaces on the ground floor of the historic building.


[5] Gordon Matta-Clark was an American artist best known for his site-specific artworks he made in the 1970s.


[6] Philippe Starck (born 18 January 1949) is a French industrial architect and designer known for his wide range of designs, including interior design, architecture, household objects and furniture, boats or other vehicles.

[7] ‘Jan Vormann talks about his Dispatchwork Project patching up walls with Lego’, (accessed 07 March 2021)


[8] (accessed 02 January 2021)


[9] Manuela Antoniu, ‘Between the Lines’,  in Mark Dorrian and Christos Kakalis (eds.), The Place of Silence: Architecture / Media / Philosophy (London: Bloomsbury 2020), pp. 83-90.


[10] ‘Zen master: Carlo Scarpa and Japan’s guiding influence’, (accessed 13 March 2021)  


[11]  Alan Forster et al., ’Western and Eastern Building Conservation Philosophies: Perspectives on Permanence and Impermanence’, in Paulo Lourenço (eds.) International Journal of Architectural Heritage, v. 13 n. 2. 


[12] Walters Weintraub et al. (eds.), ‘Urushi and Conservation: The Use of Japanese Lacquer in the Restoration of Japanese Art’ in Ars Orientalis, Vol. 11 1979 (Freer Gallery of Art, The Smithsonian Institution and Department of the History of Art, University of Michigan), pp. 39-62.


[13] Christy Bartlett, ‘A Tearoom View of Mended Ceramics’ in Christy Bartlett, James-Henry Holland, Charly Iten (eds.), Flickwerk: The Aesthetics of Mended Japanese Ceramics (Münster: Museum für Lackkunst 2008).


[14,17] ‘Kintsugi’, 

(accessed 31 August 2020) 

[15] Rumiko Handa, Sen no Rikyū and the Japanese Way of Tea: Ethics and Aesthetics of the Everyday (Lincoln: University of Nebraska 2013), pp. 229-247.


[16] Guy Keulemans, The Geo-cultural Conditions of Kintsugi, The Journal of Modern Craft, v. 9 n. 1 (2016), pp. 15-34.

[18] Patina; An aged appearance caused by environmental factors, either acquired naturally or artificially induced.

In architecture conservation context, usually refer to the trace on the building materials that indicate passing time. 


[19] Cesare Brandi, Teoria del restauro (Rome: Ed. di Storia e Letteratura 1963).

Kintsugi Bowl

[Image 1] Tea bowl,

Photo by Marco Montalti

Instagram: @KintsugiShoppe


[Image 2]  Translated vase, Korean artist yeesookyung

Contemporary Kintsugi Exhibition


Gallery MassimodeCarlo, 

Todd-White Art Photography, Courtesy of the artist and MASSIMODECARLO

Kintsugi Florence Palazzo Vecchio

[Image 3]  Patina ‘Kintsugi’ of volume and surfaces, Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, Italy

Images by the author


[Image 4]  Patina ‘Kintsugi’ of column , Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, Italy


Images by the author

Bildschirmfoto 2022-10-16 um 19.04.56.png

[Image 5] Indicative image of ancient Kintsugi porcelain plate,

Photo by Marco Montalti

Instagram: @KintsugiShoppe

All Images


Alan Forster et al. , ’Western and Eastern Building Conservation Philosophies: Perspectives on Permanence and Impermanence’, in Paulo Lourenço (eds.) International Journal of Architectural Heritage, v. 13 n. 2.


Celine Santini, Kintsugi: Finding Strength in Imperfection (Kansas City: Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2019).


Cesare Brandi, Teoria del restauro (Rome: Ed. di Storia e Letteratura 1963).


Christy Bartlett, ‘A Tearoom View of Mended Ceramics’ in Christy Bartlett, James-Henry Holland, Charly Iten (eds.), Flickwerk: The Aesthetics of Mended Japanese Ceramics (Münster: Museum für Lackkunst 2008).


Guy Keulemans, ‘The Geo-cultural Conditions of Kintsugi’, in Glenn Adamson et al. (eds.), The Journal of Modern Craft, v. 9 n. 1, pp. 15-34.


Manuela Antoniu, ‘Between the Lines’,  in Mark Dorrian and Christos Kakalis (eds.), The Place of Silence: Architecture / Media / Philosophy (London: Bloomsbury 2020), pp. 83-90.


Rumiko Handa, Sen no Rikyū and the Japanese Way of Tea: Ethics and Aesthetics of the Everyday

(Lincoln: University of Nebraska 2013), pp 229-247.


Walters Weintraub et al. (eds.), ‘Urushi and Conservation: The Use of Japanese Lacquer in the 

Restoration of Japanese Art’ in Ars Orientalis, v. 11 (Freer Gallery of Art, The Smithsonian Institution and Department of the History of Art, University of Michigan 1979) pp. 39-62.


Online References


‘Anahi Argentinian Restaurant by Maud Bury, Paris – France’, (accessed 02 January 2021). (accessed 02 January 2021).


‘Jan Vormann brings his Dispatchwork project to Aberdeen’, (accessed 07 March 2021).


‘Jan Vormann talks about his Dispatchwork Project patching up walls with Lego’, (accessed 07 March 2021).


‘Kintsugi’, (accessed 31 August 2020).


‘Kintsugi, or the Japanese art of mending the broken objects with gold.’ , (accessed 02 January 2021).


‘Plastic construction pieces are used to repair and fill holes in broken walls.’ , (accessed 07 March 2021).


‘Zen master: Carlo Scarpa and Japan’s guiding influence’, (accessed 13 March 2021).  

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