What is the best siding material for a house?
There are numerous siding materials on the market today. You have your choice of veneer, fiber cement, wood, stone and more. So how do you choose the one that’s best for you? Siding should stand the test of time in terms of both durability and looks while blending seamlessly into your overall design. If you’re considering a design with a modern aesthetic, and are looking for a low-maintenance and durable material, you may want to consider using Shou Sugi Ban siding. Haven’t heard of Shou Sugi Ban? Read on below for more.
What exactly is Shou Sugi Ban?
Shou Sugi Ban is a traditional Japanese wood-burning technique that combines form and function. Also referred to as Yakisugi, it translates to “burnt cedar board” in Japanese. The process is an entirely natural way of preserving wood which involves charring the wood’s surface, cooling it with water, then sealing it with natural oil. The Shou Sugi Ban technique was originally designed to make the wood fire-resistant with the added bonus of a beautiful, textured charcoal finish. Ironically, slightly destroying the wood makes it stronger, as the charring process treats the wood by carbonizing it. As a result, the finished material is resistant to weather, rot, fire and insects.
Detailed view of the charred top layer of Shou Sugi Ban. Photo credit: Matchstick Woods
Shou Sugi Ban wood lasts many decades due to the charring process, making it an ideal choice for siding. Traditionally, the top layer of textured charcoal is meant to wear away over time, eventually exposing the wood’s burnt smooth black under layer. While some people appreciate this peeling effect as it adds character over time, nowadays many people prefer to lock in the aesthetic of the original textured charcoal layer and avoid the peeling effect, something made possible today thanks to advances in sealant technology. Whether you choose to let your siding show its traditional wear over time by using natural oil, or lock in charcoal look with a heavier-duty sealant, Shou Sugi Ban is a great option if you are looking for a low-maintenance material designed to last a lifetime.
Example of brushed Shou Sugi Ban stained gray. Photo credit: Matchstick Woods
History of Shou Sugi Ban
Many centuries ago, Japanese carpenters seeking material for their homes and fences originally used driftwood collected from the coast line. Driftwood was desired because it underwent a weathering and durability process through the sun and ocean water currents. This also produced a natural, artistic and unique finish. Demand for this type of product was high, but it was in short supply. So people turned to fire as another means of attaining the same look and durability. Hence, Shou Sugi Ban become popular. It was popular for hundreds of years, but in the last century its popularity decreased due to the use of plastic and cement siding. It appeared to be a lost technique, but gained momentum in the early 2000s as green and eco-friendly building practices started to gain widespread popularity. Modern architects and western designers started to use this technique in their work. Now, designers and builders in America have found that American outdoor woods work just as well in achieving the Shou Sugi Ban quality and aesthetic. Today, western artisans are producing many creative effects by brushing the wood, staining it, and sealing it, allowing for many interesting colors and textures. The lost art of Shou Sugi Ban has become a perfectly modern and practical solution for anyone looking for a natural and eco-friendly siding alternative.
Great examples of Shou Sugi Ban Siding in modern design are found through the works of Japanese architect and historian, Terunobu Fujimori. Fujimori was originally an architectural historian. As a graduate of the University of Tokyo, he studied early Western buildings and unusual design. Eccentric in many respects, he did not build his own designs until his forties. In 1991, he started turning design into physical practice in his first work, the Jinchokan Moriya Historical Museum. If you ever visit the building, you can see his skillful use of Shou Sugi Ban. His work is characterised by eccentricity, yet his designs are ecologically practical. Shou Sugi Ban siding adds to environmentally friendly impact.
In an article by Dwell Magazine, Fujimori states, “As an architect, I deal with the visual effects. Energy conservation is an engineer’s work. My intention is to visibly and harmoniously connect two worlds—the built world that mankind creates with the nature God created.”
His most recent work was a collaboration with Kingston University students to create a charred wood pavilion. Fujimori taught students Shou Sugi Ban techniques during his residency at the architecture school. He is currently a professor at the University of Tokyo’s Institute of Industrial Science.
Shou Sugi Ban siding and design is where tradition, aesthetics and functionally meet. If you’re looking for the best combination of form and function and natural harmony, Shou Sugi Ban siding is probably your best bet.