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Year built: 2009
Architects: Akira Yoneda (Architecton)
Who lives here: Yasuaki Oeda
Size: 1,000 square feet (93 square meters)
Special request: "A retreat in the midst of the city and a pool for his beloved dog."
People in other countries will certainly sympathize with the client's wish to do something for his dog in the house. Yet I haven't seen such consideration taken this far, since the dog is basically given almost half of the house. This pool is the dog's domain, and his comfort is aided by tapping into a geothermal heating system.
Project: Steel House
Year built: 2007
Architects: Kengo Kuma Architects & Associates
Who lives here: Couple plus two children
Size: 2,850 sf (265 sm)
Special request: "A tearoom for tea ceremony classes and a display space for model trains."
Cathelijne Nuijsink's book is structured into four chapters, three of which present the 21 projects (the fourth concludes the book with four thematic essays). The three chapters separate the projects into generations: the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Kengo Kuma is part of the 1950s generation, who the author asserts "are all searching for ways to go beyond modernist ideals." Kuma seems to be going about it in the Steel House through the use of rough, industrial corrugated steel.
Here we see the storage and display for some of the client's 10,000 (!) model trains.
The corrugated exterior walls serve a structural purpose, but nevertheless nearly 30 openings are cut into them for windows and doors. Here we see four of these openings, all of which were located to connect with neighbors, yet avoiding face-to-face meetings with them.
Project: Rainy Sunny
Year built: 2008
Architects: Masahiro Harada (Mount Fuji Architects)
Who lives here: A novelist
Size: 860 sf (80 sm)
Special request: "A quiet, but open life."
A double-height living space prevails, opening up to the courtyard with tall windows. The top floor is a loft that gives the writer a space to work, contemplating his slice of sky out the window. Yet what is most striking is how much the wood and steel on the inside is a contrast with the scalloped concrete exterior. It is warm to the touch inside, a realm envisioned by the architects to change over time, the exterior staying the same. The herringbone patter covers the floors, inside and out, and the walls, enveloping the client.
Project: Okurayama Apartments
Location: Okurayama, Kanagawa Prefecture
Year built: 2008
Architects: Kazuyo Sejima & Associates
Who lives here: Various residents in nine apartments
Size: 5,950 sf (553 sm)
Special request: "Long lifespan, no tall building."
Kazuyo Sejima, one half of the Pritzker Prize-winning SANAA, is also a member of the 1950s generation, like Kengo Kuma earlier. Sejima has gone well beyond modern ideals by taking a building typology (apartments), usually composed of repetitive elements, and made it totally unique. The project looks like jigsaw puzzle pieces strewn across the site, the gaps between acting as passageways between buildings. In actuality it is one built volume curling about the site and forming four courtyards that are connected on the ground level to act like a street through the project.
Not surprisingly, the rooms inside are quite atypical, such as this elongated space that culminates in a window. Sejima was nevertheless considerate in laying out the apartments, providing at least two flat walls in each room for furniture.
Project: Moriyama House
Year built: 2005
Architects: Office of Ryue Nishizawa
Who lives here: Mr. Moriyama and five rental units
Size: 2,830 sf (263 sm)
Ryue Nishizawa, the other half of SANAA (but of the 1960s generation), literally broke the program into 10 independent volumes containing six housing units. Walkways between the volumes are private and communal areas for the client and the renters in the five units. There is a certain flexibility to the configuration of the outdoor spaces, which arises from making the volumes so small. Nishizawa did not want to overpower the small-scale context with one large building, so he went the opposite route, and made the volumes smaller than anything around.
Only 20 percent of the white-steel boxes are used for windows, but their large sizes — and the small size of the volumes — means that the windows have a large impact.
Project: House in Buzen
Year built: 2009
Architects: Makoto Tanijiri (Suppose Design Office)
Who lives here: A couple and two children
Size: 1,400 sf (130 sm)
Special Request: "A bright residence with a courtyard."
Similar in vein to the previous examples designed by the different partners of SANAA is this single-family residence from Suppose Design Office. The courtyards and walkways of those multi-family projects find another form in skylit passageways between volume-like rooms. Architect Makoto Tanijiri described this decision as one that gives each room multiple sides facing "outside," so that "each room has more quality and comfort."
While these passageways between the six volumes are not totally outside, the ends can be opened up to really bring the outside into the skylit spaces. Each volume can then be closed off from the passageway for privacy and climate control.
There is something appealing to this view from one space to another across the indoor/outdoor passageway. In Japan, as in many places, people do not want to look from one house to another; they'd rather maintain their privacy than have another window.
By internalizing the outdoors, privacy is maintained as light and air are brought inside. These spaces may not rival backyards in other countries, but in space-starved Japan they are some of the most valuable places imaginable.