5.10-japan-2-detail-c tatami mats Highlights Relevant to Sustainable Design:

Modular flooring streamlines design and maintenance.

We sometimes take for granted systems in commercial flooring like carpet tiles or the modular ceiling grids overhead in facilities, from offices and schools to hospitals and retail stores. The ubiquitous commercial ceiling grid that holds fluorescent tube fixtures is typically 24” x 48” with a length that is exactly twice its width. The modular tatami mats that have been used in traditional Japanese structures for hundreds of years are a distant ancestor with the same geometric proportion that is also twice as long as its width.

Tatami mats are 35 1/2” x 71” or about three feet wide by six feet long. The surface is typically made from rush grass with cotton borders, a rice straw core, and protective backing. The long rush grass is dyed with natural clay to produce a golden yellow color, and it is tightly woven and stitched in precise tension to prevent warping. The core made of rice straw is naturally treated, kiln dried, and set in layers that are compressed to two inches before yarn is used to stitch them together for a durable and level flooring system. With care, the tatami floors will last up to twenty years. The modularity is key in that if a mat is damaged, the whole floor does not need to be replaced. Unlike roll-out carpet and matting, the tatami mat can be repaired or replaced. In America, between 25 and 40 percent of our solid waste stream is building-related debris[i] of which some portion every day is discarded carpets. On the longevity front, carpets are often priced according to five, ten, fifteen, and twenty-year lives, and the longevity of the tatami mats puts them at the upper tier.

Author and illustrator: Charlie Szoradi is an architect, inventor, and the CEO of Independence LED Lighting. He writes about many other topics related to Japanese architecture and tatami mats through his extensive travels around the world.

If you have found this posting online, it is an excerpt from Mr. Szoradi’s book Learn from Looking that served as the inspiring seed content for this drawing share resource. For additional drawings and insights on modular systems, we hope that you enjoy exploring LearnfromLooking.com. You can search via general terms such as sustainability as well as narrower terms such as tatami mats, Japanese teahouse, architecture preservation, etc.

[i] Construction Debris:

Japan 2: Detail (c)—Tatami mats

Waste Stream Data—American Institute of Architects (AIA)