A Gem of a House
Kurt Handlbauer -- Interior Design, 1/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
In the narrow streets of Tokyo's residential districts, the tightly packed houses utilize each site to the last available inch, their pragmatic cubes closed off from the sidewalk by screen walls of varying density. Planters soften the border between public and private, lending a human, natural touch—and some contrast to the urban grayness. They also work as an important element for social interaction, giving neighbors a place to chat.
This predictable pattern is broken up, however, at a house by cutting-edge Atelier Tekuto. Located on a tight corner site, the small structure appears to emerge from the ground like a faceted mineral formation. A waterproof white finish imparts an abstract quality to the concrete walls, and the play of sunlight and shadow on the angular surfaces constantly transforms their appearance, making this residence even more conspicuous amid all the sameness.
The owners, a young professional couple, had surfed the Web in a quest for something new, something expressing their personal understanding of contemporary living. Their secondary demands were maximum space—as big as the lot permitted—as well as covered parking and "fun." What they got, in more literal terms, was 930 square feet organized on four levels.
From the welcoming foyer, a staircase of lacquered, folded sheet steel leads up to the public space, which comprises a living-dining area completely open to a kitchen. Exposed concrete appears in three prominent applications on this level: the ceiling, the double shelf running along a sidewall, and the kitchen counter opposite. This asymmetrical counter, finished in low-maintenance polyurethane, is treated as an architectural element fully integrated into the concept of the house. A mirrored range hood and blond fiberboard flooring balance the abstract coolness overall.
Seen from the public space, the crystalline shape and mirrored surface of the bathroom enclosure on the top level visually extend the house and add a dimension of spatial complexity. "In my smaller house projects, I've been experimenting with the perceptual effect of reflections," principal Hiro Yamashita says. He goes on to describe his concern in overcoming the narrowness here: only 6½ feet across.
The bathroom interior's polyhedron form echoes that of the building as a whole. Meanwhile, the relatively old-fashioned tub—a ready-made object completely separate from the architecture—stands like a piece of furniture under a skylight, allowing bathers to soak in a view of the sun or stars.
Carefully designed openings, used throughout the house, give a predominantly off-white space a feeling of infinite depth. What might surprise Western observers is the lack of privacy. Except for the top-floor bathroom and the basement bedroom, there's no personal retreat. In Japanese life, however, more time is spent outside the home, and togetherness has a strong significance.