Small Houses

Page 1


6 About This Book: The Poetry of Small Houses claudia hildner 10 The Roots of Contemporary Japanese Residential Architecture Ulf Meyer


28 House with Gardens/Yokohama/Tetsuo Kondo Architects 32 Sakura House/Tokyo/Mount Fuji Architects Studio 36 O House/kyoto/Hideyuki Nakayama Architecture 42 Tread Machiya/Tokyo/Atelier Bow-Wow

46 Privacy and publicness 48 House in Komae/Tokyo/Go Hasegawa & associates 52 House in buzen/buzen/Suppose Design Office 56 Final Wooden House/Kumamoto/Sou Fujimoto Architects 60 a culture shaped by wood

62 Small House H/takasaki/Kumiko Inui 66 Dancing Living House/Yokohama/A.L.X. jun' ichi Sampei 70 Ring House/karuizawa/TNA takei nabeshima architects 74 Kondo House/Tokyo/Makiko Tsukada Architects 78 steps and layers

80 Rectangle of Light/sapporo/Jun Igarashi Architects 84 Tree House/Tokyo/Mount Fuji Architects Studio 88 Villa Kanousan/kimitsu/Yuusuke Karasawa Architects 94 space without space

96 Pilotis in a Forest/tsumagoi/Go Hasegawa & associates 100 House C/Chiba/Hiroshi Nakamura & NAP Architects 104 KCH/Tokyo/KoCHI ARCHITECT'S STUDIO 108 dealing with the existing fabric

110 Tsui no Sumika/Uji/Kite Architecture 114 House of Trough/Hokkaido/Jun Igarashi Architects 118 Mosaic House/Tokyo/TNA Takei Nabeshima Architects 122 Tower Machiya/tokyo/Atelier Bow-Wow

126 beauty and ephemerality

128 Moriyama House/nagoya/Suppose Design Office 134 Minimalist House/Itoman/Shinichi Ogawa & Associates 138 Atelier Bisque Doll/Osaka/UID Architects 144 the Garden as part of the Architecture

146 House Tokyo/Tokyo/A.L.X. Jun' ichi Sampei 150 House H/Tokyo/Sou Fujimoto Architects 156 appendix

About This Book: The Poetry of Small Houses


New approaches in architecture are usually reflected first in small buildings. This is also true in Japan, where the architectural brief of the residential building offers architects an opportunity to realize unusual concepts, to experiment with materials and forms, and to implement new ideas for space. Observers in other countries admire the rigor with which Japanese architects compose these small houses: in his Final Wooden House, for example, Sou Fujimoto takes up the theme “forest,” which he does not simply understand as an image but tries to embody in the material (p. 56). Yuusuke Karasawa, by contrast, works with algorithms and based on these strict rules creates spaces he calls “ordered chaos,” which seem natural in a bizarre way (p. 88). “Experiments” like these often form the basis for other designs and larger architectural tasks and hence for the evolution of architecture in general.

The Key to the Architecture of Japan In this book the phrase “small houses” refers to residential architecture for private clients that is outstanding in terms of space and design. Although there have been many publications concerned with Japanese minimal houses, this book approaches them on a more comprehensive level: it seeks to reveal the possibilities offered to contemporary architects by the architectural brief of a residence and to clarify, both in an introduction on the history of architecture and in various in-depth texts, the cultural and social principles that influence the architecture of individual residences in Japan. The introductory essay by Ulf Meyer thus sheds light on developments in Japanese residential architecture since modernism. The author explains the residential architecture of various eras in terms of outstanding projects built between 1940 and 2000. This subtle survey brings readers closer to contemporary projects and gives them an opportunity to draw parallels between the present and the past and to get to know various facets of one architectural task. The architects whose contemporary houses are presented in the project section are for the most part members of the young avant-garde of the Japanese architecture scene. For several of them small residences for private clients have been the only opportunity thus far to realize their design ideas, since young architects have a difficult time establishing themselves in the Japanese market. The building of small houses gives them a chance to become known and to be perceived internationally as well.


The City OF Small Houses Compared to their European colleagues, Japanese architects have a somewhat easier time realizing their visions as residential buildings. First, there are hardly any design guidelines; second, Japanese clients who hire an architect know exactly what they are getting into. They want special houses that stand out from the brown and green masses; hence they are prepared to accept that the architecture will not function exclusively as a subordinate shell but will at times even demand a symbiosis, an adaptation of living habits. Japanese clients are more open to unconventional and daring ideas also in part because they are not expecting a home for eternity. In contrast to Europe, where residential buildings can as a rule be used unproblematically by several generations, a Japanese home lasts on average only twenty-five years. The reason for this difference is that in Japan a house is supposed to satisfy primarily the needs of a moment and hence of a certain period of a lifetime. When the living situation changes, it is demolished and replaced with no great qualms. The lot, not the house, is considered the real value; that is where life plays out, where spaces are created. This different understanding of building was also the theme of Japan’s national contribution to the Venice Biennale of Architecture in 2010. In the exhibition Tokyo Metabolizing, curated by Koh Kitayama for the Japan Foundation, satellite photographs of that city of millions were shown in rapid sequence, with the individual lots constantly changing, revealing transformation as a fundamental feature of Tokyo. But it is neither the public buildings nor the large apartment blocks that are primarily responsible for this rapid change: it is the small houses, which can simply be adapted to the changing living conditions of their owners and hence can be seen as the liveliest and most spontaneous elements in the urban fabric.


Design Independence Many of the projects presented in this book were possible only because sustainability is defined differently in Japan than it is in many European countries. It is interpreted not so much as a function of the building as it is a function of the inhabitants. Houses are often heated and cooled only locally and as needed. The body and not the space is what is supposed to be brought to a certain temperature – when possible by adding or removing clothing or by tabletop heating elements. Hence cold and heat are allowed to enter the room and are not “battled” in advance but rather “balanced” subsequently. This different way of thinking about sustainability in Japan can, of course, be regarded critically as well, but anyone who looks at the effective use of energy in Japanese homes cannot demonize it entirely. The greater tolerance of their clients – with regard to sacrifices of comfort, for example – means more design freedom for architects. They can risk more with their designs, presume shorter life cycles, and translate their visions into architecture more or less unaltered. The Japanese approach to architecture thus seems very free, whereas in many European countries one observes almost the opposite phenomenon: rather than making architecture the focus, issues of ecology or building codes become the yardstick for designing a residence. The architect thus seems less like a creative maker of space than like a mediator between the building authority and the energy planner. Although the historical, social, and legal circumstances are very different, the small houses of Japan can offer many sources of inspiration for the Western world. The projects presented in this book whet the appetite for more residential architecture. In the West that cannot be conceived without energy efficiency and building codes, but perhaps it could do with a little more poetry. Claudia Hildner


The Roots of Contemporary Japanese Residential Architecture

Futurist dwelling capsules: the Karuizawa vacation home was completed by Kisho Kurokawa in 1974.


Buildings with innovative ideas for space and an unusual aesthetic have repeatedly caused the eyes of Western architects to turn to Japan. Particularly in residential architecture, several fascinating characteristic architectural features have survived there that reflect the country’s traditions and social relations. Moreover, Japanese houses have a short useful life, because adapting to new living circumstances is not usually achieved by converting homes but rather by tearing them down and rebuilding them. Social and economic changes and the transformation of design preferences can therefore be read from the resulting buildings. Anyone observing their development will thus first gain insights into how the Japanese live and second derive an idea of the origins of contemporary Japanese residential architecture. This essay is thus dedicated first to the conditions on which residential architecture in Japan is based, focusing on social and urban planning factors. Then it depicts the evolution of Japanese residential architecture from the mid-twentieth century to the present using chronological case studies. In the process it becomes clear that residential architecture in Japan did not develop in a vacuum but rather is based on a long tradition of small houses that only exist in this form in the Land of the Rising Sun.

The Principles of Japanese Residential Architecture In Japan most private lots are extremely small, limited, and always more expensive than the buildings that stand on them. This has repeatedly led to unique architectural solutions, since the existing space has to be used as efficiently as possible. But the differentness of Japanese residences is also based on building codes intended primarily to regulate the blocking of light in constricted Japanese metropolises, basing permissible building heights on the width of the streets. They are also intended to protect buildings from fire




1 1.25


Restrictions on heights in the Japanese building code: A… Area within which limits apply depending on the width of the street. B… Area within which one- or two-story buildings can be built (as measured from the edge of the property) with no sloping in accordance with regulations on the north side. C… Area within which the building can be built (if no other rules apply). 11

and ensure that they resist earthquakes as long as possible. Hence the building codes also determine not only the form of houses but above all urban planning: the effects can be seen, for example, in the “gullies” between houses that result from the setback requirements and in the top floors of buildings, which seem to be cut off diagonally in order to maximize building heights while ensuring that neighboring houses receive as much natural light as possible. The climate is comparatively mild throughout the year in much of Japan, but because the walls and windows of Japanese houses are poorly sealed and insulated, it can become unpleasantly hot inside during the summer and bitingly cold in winter. Because of the way many Japanese heat and cool – they regulate the temperature of the body rather than that of the entire room – the effective energy use of houses is nevertheless relatively low, so that at least from the government perspective there is no need to heighten regulations for the use of energy in homes. Because this means that extensive insulation is unnecessary, the architects have a design freedom that their Western colleagues can only envy. Despite high population density – the factor that influences Japan’s building culture more than any other – there is still an astonishingly high number of single-family homes in the cities. Traditionally, the large middle class in Japanese society has placed great value on owning private land and real estate – however small it may be.

The Influence of Urban Planning Developments Regulations, building traditions, and economic factors influence the look of Japanese houses, but the most important factor is urban planning itself: the largest Japanese cities have grown together into a single meta-megacity in recent decades. Because Japanese metropolises are characterized by modern high-capacity train networks, and individual traffic cannot

View to the south from Tokyo’s northern city limit: a tapestry of single-family homes with isolated apartment blocks. 12

Change in scales: the high-rises of urban centers tower out of the agglomeration.

compete with public transportation despite numerous highways, the destructive tendencies of suburbanization familiar from the United States and other Western countries have done much less damage here. A culturally rich, almost continuous, densely woven tapestry of settlements has formed, and among other things it serves as the foundation for innovative Japanese residential architecture. The lack of context is the only context in which residential buildings are designed. The fragmentary essence of Japanese metropolises has often been described as a “patchwork,” because of its – as Botond Bognar has put it – “radical heterogeneity.” The architect cannot but “add to the restless image of the city.” (Bognar Botond 1990, p. 14) Whereas in most countries the relationship to the surrounding landscape is marked by single-family homes, in Japan it is the omnipresent city, a manmade landscape that can be called an urbanscape. The visual chaos of these constantly changing metropolises usually offers few points of reference for housing, but on the other hand it frees architecture of the obligation to adapt to or even subordinate itself to its urban context. Every building stands alone; the urban juxtaposition sometimes seems confused and arbitrary to Western eyes. Because of the rapid sequence of building and demolition that is typical in Japan, it makes little sense for architects to relate their work to a neighboring building. Many architects thus choose a defensive strategy and cut the building off from the context of the city. Experience with recurring natural catastrophes, wars, and not least the explosive growth of cities has left little room for sentimentality in the design of Japanese cities. They do not build for eternity: on average, residential buildings are demolished and rebuilt after just twenty-five years. A situation that might seem at first glance to run counter to the development of an architectural culture in fact has deep cultural roots in Japan. The lack of tradition has a long tradition where the physical constitution of buildings is concerned. Originally, houses in Japan were created from ephemeral materials and were repeatedly demolished and replaced – only a building’s form, never its material, could be preserved for centuries.

House in a Tokyo suburb ready for demolition. 13

Anyone who studies Japanese urban planning will recognize the changing of individual elements as an essential quality of these metropolises. Whereas European cities are characterized by their permanence, Japanese cities are characterized by transformation, by the dynamic. Changes in social or economic circumstances can be manifested architecturally and urbanistically in Japanese metropolises within a quarter century, whereas in cities like Paris it is barely possible to detect a change in the cityscape over that period. The Japanese city counters the lack of monumentality and permanence with its omnipresence as its strength. In contrast to the Western, European view of urban planning, in which one building relates to the next, and the body of a city emerges only within a context, Japan’s cities celebrate chaos, energy, and constant renewal. That does not mean that urban planning considerations are fundamentally bracketed out in Japan, but rather that such metropolises often require different solutions than a Western city does.

Japanese Architecture until the Second World War Until the twentieth century, the majority of Japanese residential buildings were characterized by a traditional modular wood-frame construction that obtained its genuinely Japanese form from fusuma (sliding doors), tatami (straw mats), and sho ÂŻ ji (sliding panels made of rice paper). Houses in Japan were designed for large families, and their floor plans were based on a planar, modular system of rooms and corridors with a straw or tile roof above and a wooden platform below. The proportions and dimensions of the room were based on the module of a tatami (which today measures about 80 by 182 centimeters but varies slightly from region to region and even then has been adjusted repeatedly over time) and the construction grid of the wood frame, which is filled in with both permanent and moving, nonbearing walls. The floor plans of Japanese houses have not traditionally been determined by function but are rather flexible in use, and thanks to their sliding walls they can easily be

The interpenetration of housing and the experience of nature: the Villa Katsura in Kyoto. 14

View into one of the teahouses of the Villa Katsura: the proportions of tatami mats and sliding elements characterize the traditional architecture of Japan.

combined into larger units. Futons were rolled up and stored in closets during the day; so there were neither beds nor chairs nor tall tables. “Clean” (bath) and “dirty” (toilet) were separated spatially. Until the devastating Kanto ¯ earthquake of 1923, even large cities like Tokyo consisted largely of low-rise, traditional wooden houses. The fires after the earthquake thus caused worse damage than the vibration of the earth itself: the catastrophe made painfully clear the limitations of wood construction for the modern Japanese metropolis. Even the brick buildings of the Ginza District that had been built in the Western style proved not to be sufficiently earthquake-safe, so that reinforced concrete was increasingly used in the years that followed. At the same time, traditional Japanese architecture was receiving more attention in the West: it began with Franz Adolf Wilhelm Baltzer’s Das japanische Wohnhaus of 1903 and reached a climax with the texts Bruno Taut wrote between 1933 and 1936, in which the Villa Katsura in Kyoto in particular was assessed as an outstanding example of Japanese architecture. Walter Gropius also recognized that traditional Japanese architecture offered solutions to the architectural issues of his day. It is thus not surprising that his Sommerfeld House in Berlin of 1921 has similarities with the Sho ¯ so ¯ in wood house in Nara from the eighth century. While the West was discovering traditional Japanese architecture, the Japanese were fascinated by the Modern Movement and tried to keep up with its Western advocates. Iwao Yamawaki (1898–1987) was one of four Japanese students at the Bauhaus in Dessau, and the only architect among them. After returning to Japan, he built a residence and studio in Tokyo in 1933 that reflects the principles of Bauhaus modernism. The intercontinental exchange of ideas was fruitful for the evolution of a modern Japanese residential architecture, as is also demonstrated by the example of the house that Kunio Maekawa built for himself.

Walter Gropius’s Sommerfeld House in Berlin (right) reveals echoes of the Sho ¯ so ¯ in wooden house in Nara. 15

case study 4. Toyo ito, white U, 1976 In 1976 Ito built this house for his older sister, whose husband had recently died of cancer. She wanted a house in which their two daughters would have “more direct contact to earth and sky”. Over the course of designing it, functional considerations took a backseat to symbolic ones. The exposed-concrete building was shaped like a U whose ends are joined by a straight line. Thus it resulted in both a protected courtyard and an infinite space. The long corridor led to the children’s rooms and the mother’s bedroom. White walls and a white floor formed a universal space for playing, eating, and meditating. Light and shadow from a skylight covered these surfaces like a canvas. The demolition of the house, which took place before Ito’s eyes in 1997, was regarded by the family as a liberation from the task of mourning. Whereas in the 1970s houses were often still designed like a heterogeneous “internalized city,” the beginning of the “new wave” in the 1980s introduced a radical reversal in thinking: architects abandoned the attempt to view the city as something to be designed and instead pursued an introverted architecture that related to the city in a defensive way and sought hermetic separation. This period was the heyday of the exposed-concrete architecture of strict primary geometry of the sort that Tadao Ando ¯ made world famous.

Plan of ground floor


¯, case study 5. Tadao ando Sumiyoshi Nagaya, 1976 Tadao Ando ¯ took a traditional building type as his point of reference for his design of the Sumiyoshi Nagaya: the nagaya. It is a kind of row house that was particularly common in the Edo period (1603–1867) and housed the majority of the city’s population. Ando ¯ ’s slender exposed-concrete building stands on a lot 14 meters deep but just 3.5 meters wide. A small incision in the otherwise completely closed-off, six-meter-tall street facade of exposed concrete serves as the entrance. Only after passing through it is it clear that the house is organized around an open courtyard that extends the full width of the lot. Residents have to pass through this courtyard to reach the back spaces from the front ones. The design has entered the history books as a symbol of the radically introverted residential architecture in Japan of this period. Ando ¯ ’s architecture was both antiurban and antihedonistic. The turn away from the hostile, overpowering, constantly transforming city resulted in many inward-turned spaces.

Plans of ground floor and second floor, section



O house Kyoto

Hideyuki Nakayama architecture


live-in cathedral

Is it a church, a cut-open house, or a live-in sculpture with a display window? O House in Kyoto surprises viewers with its eccentric form: a tall volume twists defiantly into the sky, while the two side aisles duck away modestly. On the front side, a full-height glass facade is all that separates the interior from the exterior. When necessary, a curtain can keep curious passersby from looking in. The architect Hideyuki Nakayama arranged living spaces and outdoor areas around the central volume on the ground floor. They are in turn surrounded by a hip-height concrete wall that can be read as an

exterior wall or as a garden wall. From the outside, the central nave is perceived as the most important part of the house, but the floor plan reveals that it houses two completely different uses. On the ground floor it serves primarily to provide access, whereas on the upper floor it accommodates the bedrooms for the family of four. The occupants enter the house via the central volume, which leads them into the side wings with the live-in kitchen and bathroom or into the outdoor area. They reach the upper floor via the kitchen, from which an S-shaped spiral staircase leads back into the central nave. According to 37






Nakayama, this path makes the occupants’ climb into the bedrooms not simply a walk into another space. It is, he says, rather like coming home after a long day. Life inside the house and its external appearance do not correspond and can scarcely be interpreted as a unity. Thanks to the glass facade, however, there is a direct connection between outside and inside: it transforms the quirky building into a kind of stage, complete with curtain. As long as the latter is open, passersby can follow parts of the family’s life, experiencing a presentation of “living in the city”. For the residents, by contrast, the changing exterior space becomes part of their home. When the curtain is closed, the perception of the house changes, both for its viewers and for its users. The structure of O House contains allusions to the history of architecture: first, the curving main house recalls somewhat White U by Toyo Ito (see p. 22), which has already been demolished; second, the composition of tall middle house and low side buildings admits of purely superficial associations with a typical two-story residence of the Edo period (1603–1867).

1 . Cross section 2. Longitudinal section 3. First floor plan 4. Ground floor plan Scale 1:250 39



final wooden house sou fujimoto architects

kumamoto 2008

innovatively primitive In this experimental house in Kumamoto in southern Japan, the constructions, facade, and interior are all made of wood. Its architect, Sou Fujimoto, thus calls the building, located in the garden of a private client on a lot measuring 4.20 by 4.20 meters, Final Wooden House. Building an all-wood house appealed to the Tokyo architect for several reasons. First, the material dominated Japanese architecture for centuries and had a great influence on the evolution of the country’s architecture. Second, there was its naturalness, which predestined it to shape the “primitive� architecture Fujimoto sought. Finally, the architect

was fascinated by the diversity of the material, which in one building can fulfill every conceivable function from dressing by way of construction and insulation to interior finishing. With his Final Wooden House, he pushed the multifunctionality of wood to its limits by assigning nearly all the tasks to a single element: thirty-five-centimeterthick square cedar beams. The viewer notices in passing that this is a living, growing material simply from its growth rings. Staggering the arrangement of the solid wood beams results in steps whose heights are multiples of the basic unit of thirty-five centimeters 57


1 . Top view 2. Section Scale 1:100


and are thus harmonized with human dimensions. One element is suitable for seating furniture; two correspond to the height of a desk; three make it possible to work standing up. In essence, this is a house without furniture, which only became common in the living areas of Japanese homes from the time of the Meiji Restoration (from 1868 onward) and the associated adoption of Western styles of housing and living. The walls and levels of Final Wooden House cannot be easily read; in fact, the space and the material that delimits space closely dovetail as positive and negative forms. In his book Primitive Future, Sou Fujimoto writes of this project: “Before matter and space separated, there was an unfathomable potential concealed in the unequivocally undiffer-


entiated state […] when the stacked timbers and interstitial spaces become equivalent, ambiguities blur the distinction between the space produced by mass and the mass produced by space” 1 . This quotation reflects what the architect means by “primitive”: not an imitation of earlier building techniques but rather an attempt to understand space and architecture in a very primal sense, to question the means available to architecture, employing them in such a way that the result makes a general statement about building. With his Final Wooden House, the architect created a house that is also an experiment with space: a small universe that offers people spaces and areas to use but not instructions for their use. 1… Fujimoto, Sou: Primitive Future. Tokyo, 2008, p. 119.



Makiko Tsukada Architects



Kondo House hanging Gardens

How can light be brought into a house that is constricted on three sides by neighboring buildings and faces a loud street on its fourth side? The Tokyo-based architect Makiko Tsukada solved that problem by largely closing off Kondo House from its surroundings, letting light flow into the house from above via patios and staggered levels. The architect used a combination of two pairs of steel frames, from which the residential floors, the outer walls, and two patios were fastened or

suspended. This made it possible to dispense with supports in the interior, so that the floors almost seem to float. This impression is reinforced by a ribbon window just above the floor, which makes the wall surfaces above it seem light as a feather. On the ground floor of the house Tsukada designed for a husband-and-wife team of graphic designers, their one-year-old child, and the husband’s father, she placed a live-in kitchen, a living room closed off on three sides, and the grandfather’s living quarters. One of the patios extends the full



height of the building and serves as a small interior garden between the grandfather’s rooms and the clients’ living area. Two staircases lead from the kitchen to the upper floor. Arranged on three staggered levels are the family’s bedrooms, a workspace, and a play space for the child. Between the work and play areas is a second, slightly narrower patio, so that the upper story is articulated by two glass boxes as well as the shifts in level. Makiko Tsukada tries to design her houses in such a way that the occupants can use them in several ways: for example, the two

staircases permit a playful “circular tour” through the house. The open living space should not be understood as an obligation either: the rooms can be separated by shoji – the traditional sliding doors covered with rice paper – which provides a little private sphere. It is in keeping with Tsukada’s concept that the facade has dark plaster and gives few hints of its spectacular interior. Shielding against unwanted influence seems to be more important to the family than exposing to the outside the exciting world in which they dwell.

2 1

1 . Ground floor plan 2. First floor plan 3. Longitudinal section Scale 1:250



In the Western architectural tradition, a building is primarily framed by means of walls and windows. […] On the other hand, in the traditional Japanese architecture, horizontal planes (that is, the floor and the ceiling) are the dominant framing devices. 1 Kengo Kuma

1… Hyatt, Peter and Hyatt, Jennifer: Designing with Glass: Great Glass Buildings. 50 modern classics. Mulgrave, Victoria, 2004, p. 18. 2… Hirai, Kiyoshi: The Japanese House Then and Now. Tokyo, 1998, p. 41. 3… Casa Brutus, special issue “Traditional Japanese Architecture and Design” (part 1), 4/2008, p. 71. 78

steps and layers

Flooring is first found in Japan in antiquity. It came in the form of slightly raised plank floors in the living room that cause the living area to stand out as a result, distinct from the height of the surrounding floors. Previously, the Japanese lived almost exclusively on rammed earth; floors of this kind continued to be used for “dirty” areas of the house, but the living spaces of wealthier families were increasingly dominated by plank floors. In essence, this floor served as universal furniture, supplemented by mobile tatami mats on which to sit and lie down more comfortably. Beginning around AD 1200, there were more and more residential buildings in which tatami mats were installed permanently. 2 The nature and height of the floor not only revealed the function of the room within the house but also suggested how formal the given area was and indicated the rank of those sitting on it. This was particularly clear in medieval Japan: in the reception rooms of residences of warriors, the heights of the floors indicated where those of different military ranks were supposed to sit in relation to one another. In prestigious residences, other parts of the building indicated the formality of the room and the corresponding level of etiquette. In essence, there were three different levels of formality: shin (very formal), gyo ¯ (formal), and so ¯ (informal). This was conveyed, for example, by means of the borders of tatami mats, the design of walls and ceilings, and wood of different types and manner of installation. 3 These means of formal expression were available to the nobility and the warrior class – the lower classes were not permitted to use them. Whereas craftspeople and farmers could only design their homes in simple ways in any case, in order to maintain the traditional hierarchy of the estates the merchants who grew wealthy in the eighteenth century were forbidden to use the insignias of the upper classes. In addition to functioning as an indicator of social status and as all-purpose furniture, the floor is

very important spatially, as Kengo Kuma explains. In the traditional Japanese house it was one of the few immovable elements, along with the ceilings and wooden supports. Because there were only light sliding doors and few solid interior walls, the floor and ceiling shaped the space through which daily life flowed (see also p. 94). Western influences on Japanese housing only began to increase with the Meiji Restoration from 1868 onward, but even then only one or at most two rooms of a house would be furnished according to Western ideas – or, more accurately, by the notions the Japanese had of how people lived in the West. One crucial change, however, was the introduction of furniture for sitting and reclining, which deprived the floor of its universal tasks in the living areas. In many Japanese homes, the traditional functions of the floor still play an important role. For example, the genkan, or ground-level entrance where street shoes are removed, has been retained in many cases. It is, however, no longer distinguished by an earthen floor but usually has an easily cleaned plastic or stone floor covering. The elevated areas often feature imitation parquet rather than real wood, and the living rooms and bedrooms in many houses still have tatami mats on which low tables sit during the day and futons are rolled out at night to sleep. The floor in a Japanese home thus still conveys information about how certain areas are used, intended to offer signals about how to interact with the space, and shows by means of steps and differences in floor covering where shoes are permitted, where to use slippers instead, and also when the latter should be removed again. In architecturally ambitious homes today, however, many architects dispense with these eloquent elements from the past or reinterpret them in favor of a stronger concept of space (see, for example, Kondo House by Makiko Tsukada [p. 74] or Tree House by Mount Fuji Architects [p. 84]).



atelier bow-wow


tower machiya Vertical Tea garden

The plot was the size of a parking space, but the clients nevertheless wanted to build their dream house there. Atelier Bow-Wow met this challenge in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district with another machiya (see also Tread Machiya, p. 42), this time in the form of a tower. The stairwell replaces the corridor of the traditionally one- or two-story machiya and snakes like a garden path through the four slightly staggered floors. On the second level the architects even added a kind of bench. As in a typical Japanese tea garden, the end point and climax of the path is a teahouse,


or in this case a tearoom. Both clients are well versed in the Japanese tea ceremony, and would like someday to instruct students in this room. Visitors enter Tower Machiya on the southeast side and via a narrow entry area enter directly into the elevated live-in kitchen. Via a white filigreed steel stairwell, which stands out clearly against the parquet floor, they begin the climb to the upper floors. The individual rooms are articulated around the stairwell like stations on the edge of the path. The building makes no secret of the steel construction that supports it: crossovers and rough



EG ground floor


1.OG first floor

2. OG second floor





longitudinal section - Längsschnitt

cross section - Querschnitt

3. OG / Dachgeschoss third floor


cladding remain visible. The architects combined this open and clear structure with modern glass elements, traditional Japanese sliding doors, and tatami mats, resulting in a contemporary and yet thoroughly Japanese house. scale 1:250 That is also reflected in the exterior view of Tower Machiya: the entrance area is characterized by traditional sliding doors of thin wooden slats; the upper stories are dominated by the steel construction and narrow balconies. Tower Machiya is an example of the extreme verticality that now dominates Japan’s urban structures, which were originally so horizontal. Rather than low buildings that develop into the depths of the plot, there are rather multistory point-block residential buildings. With this design, however, Atelier Bow-Wow demonstrates that a vertically arranged house need not contradict the original living style of the Japanese city but can instead build on it.

1 . Ground floor plan 2. First floor plan 3. Second floor plan 4. Third floor plan/attic 5. Longitudinal section 6. Cross section Scale 1:250 125

Looking over the bay, spring blossoms and autumn leaves are as nothing Compared to those grass-thatched huts in the autumn twilight. 1 見わたせば 花も紅葉もなかりけり 浦の苫屋の秋の夕暮 1 Fujiwara Sadaie



1… Blyth, R. H.: Haiku, vol. 3. Summer-Autumn. Tokyo, 1986, p. 900. 2… Japan Illustrated Encyclopedia: Keys to the Japanese Heart and Soul. Tokyo, 2008 (19th ed.), p. 29. 3… Ibid., p. 31. 126

beauty and ephemerality

That the Japanese cultivate a special relationship to fleeting moments is reflected in the attention they pay to seasonal events such as the blooming and fading of various sorts of flowers or to the fall colors of leaves. In the case of cherry blossoms in particular, mankai – that is, the day on which the blossoms have opened completely and remain visible only for a brief time – is feverishly anticipated. It is about perfect beauty, on the one hand, but also, on the other hand, about the fact such beauty cannot be captured: perfection is not a state that endures. The Japanese call the aesthetic principle behind this mono no aware: “a deep, empathetic appreciation of the ephemeral beauty manifest in nature and human life” 2 . This motif first occurs in writings of the Heian period – around AD 1000 – and plays an important role in the literature of later centuries as well. To understand mono no aware, it is important to understand mujo ¯ – the Buddhist doctrine of ephemerality, according to which “everything that is born must die and […] nothing remains unchanged”3. Because Buddhism began influencing Japanese culture as early as AD 700, it is reasonable to assume that mono no aware evolved in part based on engagement with the doctrine of mujo ¯. With the refinement of the tea ceremony and developments in poetry in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, two other aesthetic principles gained in importance: wabi and sabi. Whereas the former goes back to the tea master Sen no Rikyo ¯ (1522–91) and primarily praises the austere beauty of the simple life relieved of worldly cares, the latter is closely associated with the poet Basho ¯ (1644–94) and is found – even beyond poetry – where the ephemerality and imperfection of life are expressed in the form of a patina or slight defects. Both principles are sometimes juxtaposed with perfect beauty – of cherry blossoms,

for example – so that the contrast will reinforce the intended image of wabi or sabi. In the teahouses, the principles of wabi and sabi were transferred to architecture: on the one hand, they influenced the architecture of shoin, a very formal type of building that evolved from the medieval residences of warriors. In addition, they gave impetus to the development of a more informal type of house: the sukiya, which is now considered the model of traditional Japanese residential architecture (the most famous example is the Villa Katsura in Kyoto; see p. 14). This traditional aesthetic is reflected in contemporary architecture as well, as in the simple beauty of the construction of Tower Machiya by Atelier BowWow (p. 122). Although mono no aware and sabi had no direct influence on architecture, they do have a mutual relationship to it: the living material of wood, which dominated Japanese architecture into the twentieth century, ages in a clearly visible way; historical roof constructions of rice straw or bark must be replaced regularly; and sensitive materials with short life spans, such as tatami and shoji (sliding doors of rice paper) characterize many houses even today. In the case of sho ¯ji, moreover, space itself becomes ephemeral, since the floor plans can be changed in accordance with current needs. This flexible subdivision of space makes sense even today, since the often relatively small houses can quickly react to new requirements (see, for example, Kondo House by Makiko Tsukada, p. 74). In contemporary architecture, the shoji are sometimes replaced by curtains. The approach to light and relationships to the garden or the changing seasons often reflects architects’ desire to provide a place in architecture for the ephemeral or to think of the building not just spatially but also temporally.



Sou Fujimoto Architects

house h tokyo

from branch to branch Sou Fujimoto modeled his design for House H in Tokyo on the structure of a young tree; the building is like a shoot that is constantly branching out as it spreads upward. The Tokyobased architect worked with separate levels, each of which serves a specific use, and with steps that either connect two levels or represent their own “spatial unit”. The house almost completely fills the lot – in lieu of a garden, Fujimoto created interesting spatial transitions that make the interior of the building seem like a unity. Via the carport one arrives at the entry to the house, from which a massive staircase leads into the living


space. From there a wooden staircase provides access to the kitchen. Additional steps lead to the living room and finally the bedroom. Up to this point the steps lead upward in a spiral, but now one can choose whether to continue climbing upward or enter the nursery. There awaits one of the “aimless” staircases, placed over an opening in the ceiling, providing a place for their small daughter to play. From the parents’ bedroom one can continue up, again with two options to choose from: the path to the roof terraces or that to the bathroom. The individual rooms are connected to one another via large-format openings in walls and ceil151


1 . Cross section 2. Third floor plan 3. Second floor plan 4. First floor plan 5. Ground floor plan Scale 1:250


Level 3 + Dach




ings, so that the family members remain in contact across several floors or can at least sense the presence of the others. The numerous connections make the interior seem almost continuous. This vertically conceived landscape would probably Level 2-3 function best without any exterior walls, but its use as a residence and its location in a densely populated Tokyo neighborhood argued rather for a closed solution. An exposed concrete shell with large openings is wrapped around the living areas and also surrounds the roof terraces and the carport. Whereas the interior with its many steps somewhat recalls a narrow and winding ruin or a work by the Level 1-2 artist M. C. Escher, the house presents itself to the outside as ordered and restrained. The large windows, whose panes are fixed in the jambs at a slight angle, frame the exterior space. Views inward and outward connect the private and the public areas, so that the exterior space and street scenes can flow into the family’s everyday life.

Level 1



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