I came across an interesting article by Bruce Wallace in The LA Times about a Japanese architect, Tadanobu Fujimori, who uses natural materials like mud and grass to make his designs:
Fujimori says his inspiration springs from his knowledge and love of history. He argues that the 20th century was actually the second era in which architectural style was internationalized. The first occurred several thousand years ago when people in traditional societies in different parts of the world set about building shelter for themselves and all came up with about the same style of architecture: roughly speaking, the hut.
"I finally realized that if you go back far enough everywhere in the world, whether Japan, Europe, native America or sub-Saharan Africa, people were making pretty much the same thing," he says. The search for the primitive in Japan sent him back before the age of tatami and bamboo to the Jomon period that began more than 10,500 years ago, a time when some of the world's first sedentary peoples lived in pits or small above-ground buildings.
Fujimori says his interest is piqued by what followed that primitive stage: the local variations in building styles that emerged when different peoples "came out of this native phase to the start of something more sophisticated." The result is a body of work that could spring from Tolkien's Middle-earth, influenced by such diverse abodes as the Paleolithic caves of Lascaux, France, a treehouse in Shropshire, England, a Portuguese stone house and the sun-dried mud bricks of the Great Mosque in Djenne, Mali.
He is especially influenced by mud. Fujimori loves mud. "Mud blends into nature," he says.
When Fujimori received his first commission, the Jinchokan Moriya Historical Museum on the grounds of a Shinto shrine in his hometown of Chino City in Nagano Prefecture, he sought out traditional artisans, including a retired craftsman living in a rest home whom he describes as the last man then alive who knew how to split wood by hand. He still describes the finished museum as his best work from a purely architectural perspective.
That was followed by teahouses, where his only adherence to tradition is that the rooms are small, have low entrances and a fireplace to boil water. One sits in the corner of a Buddhist temple in Kyoto, with an arch in the garden in tribute to Le Corbusier. Another, designed for a former Japanese prime minister, is covered in cedar bark and sits independently in the woods.