Building in tokyo is a hard thing. In the 1970′s Kazuo Shinohara led a movement that included adherents such as Tadao Ando and Toyo Ito which even suggested it was impossible to deal with the city in any way and that the correct decision was to retreat from it and to create an interior world that would not be disturbed by urban life going on outside poetically fortified walls.
Given the business of the city it is easy to appreciate that point of view, and certainly some beautiful and interesting buildings were made as a result. I guess it even led Ando on the path to become the Pritzker prize winning architect that he is. And yet it also seems to be an approach that misses opportunities. Our work in a way is based on an experimental point of view that challenges the premise that Shinohara and Ando have followed for so long. We think it is possible to get a lot more form urban sites than poetic interior spaces, and we are working on showing exactly what that might mean.
In the Yoyogi House we opened the house to its surroundings, extending the street into its heart where it was transformed into a garden and then a wood deck. The open-ness makes the home feel much larger than its 80m2 would lead one to expect. And it creates a wonderful interior space where the owner has planted strawberries and tulips and is able to enjoy the seasons not only by noticing the rain or the snow, but by seeing the changes in the plants growing in her garden.
With Minami Azabu house the clients wanted something different, and the site is in any case an entirely different type, so we took things in a different direction.
Needing open room on the ground level, to turn a car on the small site, the possibility of pulling the street into a landscape did not seem right here. The shape of the site also imposed strict legal constraints on the volume of the home, meaning it would be hard to create open space without giving up large amounts of floor area. So instead we took a simplistic direction. We chose to divide the home into three functional parts, and stacked them…
Still wanting to make a comfortable landscape we created a large hard surfaced open space on the ground, and placed green spaces on the upper levels. As I explained in earlier posts this makes a lot of sense for other reasons too – in a site as crowded by homes as this one, a garden on the ground level would be very dark.
While the first two floors are relatively closed off from the site, the third floor opens up on three sides to decks and to a stairway that takes us up to the roof.
As diagrams these are quite nice, but making them work in the building itself was a bit of a challenge. For legal reasons we could not make the floor heights very high on each floor or we would quickly go over the 10 meter limit,and for the same reason we needed to make the depth of the floors as small as possible. Normally that is very easy, but in this case we wanted to create a cavity space in the floors. On the third floor that gave us room to run pipes for the kitchen and the washroom, and at the point where the inside meets the outside it made it possible to have a good waterproofing detail without having to step up or down to go onto the deck.
section through deck
The way to make this all work out was to reverse the beams, lifting them up into the cavity space. The floor remained shallow and the decks were flush with the interior floor.
substructure on 3f deck
We used similar details with all of the exterior decks, including the roof, which has three separate finish systems including a green roof system from Tajima roofing, a concrete block system, and a wooden deck. Each of these has a different substructure and different requirements, so we needed to be very careful to get them to all mesh together on site. In the end, we were able to resolve the inevitable problems that emerged on site, and the crew put the roof together perfectly.
the soil container is built with gaps in its face to allow water to move through it. Before filling these big sand boxes with soil the crew put in a permeable sheet to keep the soil in place as well as a layer of plastic trays that look more or less like large egg crates. These are used to hold a little bit of the water in the soil while allowing for drainage underneath. It is a very clever system that makes a green roof possible even on a wooden house.
installing concrete blocks
putting in soil ( a lightweight mix made by the roofing company), and railing installed on the roof
putting in soil on the third floor deck
the same deck with concrete tiles added
When it is all put together it makes for a rather nice series of outdoor spaces that extend the interior rooms out into the city, and creates a large outdoor room on the roof
two of the decks meeting on the third floor
roof deck, nearly complete