Guest Post: Japan/Tokyo: Architecture That Will Change Your View On Housing

By January 2, 2014 No Comments
House Na

// I will be travelling to Japan in just under week from now. To celebrate, best mate, design-wiz and cinematographer of this, Callum Andrews pieced together a list of some of the most subversive pieces of housing in Japan’s capital, Tokyo, that he highly recommends I visit. Besides studying it, Callum lives and breathes design and architecture so read on and be spatially enlightened!


// Nick is going to Japan and will be spending just over a week in Tokyo, unfortunately he didn’t invite me. Anyway, below is a small piece about Japan, it’s capital Tokyo and a selection of my favourite pieces of radical Japanese housing. Nick, I know you won’t make it to all, but if you could even make it to a couple, it will show you why I want to make this my life.


Japan is renowned for its unconventional housing, and with thanks to social media, we regularly see a steady supply of unusual Japanese Architecture on our screens. These avant-garde homes, mostly designed by architects of the younger generation, elicit readers’ amazement and begs us to ask the question, what is it that drives Japanese architects to step outside the box of residential architecture? Japanese architects today are relatively free from the technical and economic constraints present to almost all westernised designers. Notions such as the structure’s longevity, its size and its comfort, do not concern this new breed of designers nor their clients. An unconventional design requires an unconventional client- one who’s willing to take risks, or who can afford to ignore preconceived ideas of privacy, form, comfort and aesthetics. These experimental commissions are not always the luxury villa or penthouse apartment, but are the small middle-class homes for the so called everyday family. So why is this seemingly common typology now the canvas for avant-garde design? Tokyo based architect Alastair Townsend believes that Japans’ penchant for avant-garde housing is driven by the country’s bizarre real estate economics, as much as its designers’ creativity.


Tōkyō is Japan’s capital and the world’s most dense metropolis. Immersed in this populous urban fabric are many radical pieces of Japanese residential architecture. This Map provides 9 examples and is centred around West Tokyo, where most of the famous examples are clustered. By no means is this list finished, so if anyone has anyone suggestions please tweet to @AlaTown.

Moriyama House by Ryue Nishizawa, Tokyo, Japan 2005

I have had the privilege of studying this project personally during my studies. The concept backing this project was the vision of ‘a house as a city’. Ten cuboids (small built rooms) with different floor areas and heights are freely distributed across a stretch of land not much larger than the lots of single-family housing nearby. The 6-centimeter-thick load-bearing walls, extremely thin even by Japanese standards, are reinforced with steel plates, thus making large window openings possible. In between each cuboid a landscape of paths and courtyards unfold on all sides creating a textile surface surrounding the individual units. The boxes harbour five compact rental apartments, some stacked and each having 16–30 m2 of space, with respective gardens. sanaa-moriyama-house-02

二  Small House By Kazuyo Sejima, Tokyo, Japan 2008

Located in one of Tokyo’s most attractive areas, this small house is situated on an extremely small lot. Designed by Japanese architect, Kazuyo Sejima, this house is a family home, divided into 4 specific spaces and distributed on 4 floor slabs. Since the house is very small, each space was defined exactly for the family needs; bedroom, extra space for the child, living/kitchen/dining area and terrace with bath. This build pushes the envelope of form follows function. smallhouse 1Takashi Homma

三  Tokyo Apartment by Sou Fujimoto Architects, Tokyo, Japan 2010

This build consists of four dwelling units including the owner’s dwelling unit. Each dwelling unit is made with two or three independent rooms of prototypical “house” shapes. The four units are stacked on top of each other, all connected by a single staircase. The innuendo behind this project is a representation of mountain, and the users experience as he/she climbs to their ‘summit’.

33 Tokyo Apt Fujimoto 4034 press page

Reflection of Mineral by Atelier Tekuto, Tokyo, Japan 2011

The site is located near the centre of Tokyo and is a small 44m2 corner plot bounded by two streets. Conforming to legal conditions and in response to the client’s wish for a ‘roofed garage’ the housing volume was cut from various directions to produce the current typology. Using the words ‘Mineral’ and ‘reflection’ as guiding concepts, Tekuto proceeded to use subtraction as a tool for architectural design.


  五 House Na by Sou Fujimoto Architects,Tokyo, Japan 2010 (pictured above)

‘To dwell in a house, amongst the dense urbanity of small houses and structures can be associated to living within a tree’. Trees have many branches, all of which provide a setting, and a source of activities of diverse scales. House NA binds to this notion and has three storeys that are subdivided into many staggered platforms. The few walls that do exist  on these platforms are mostly glass, making certain spaces secure without adding privacy, thus challenging the notions of a conventional house.

House in Uehara by Kazuo Shinohara, Tokyo, Japan 1976

The influence of Kazuo Shinohara (1925-2006) on Japanese architecture can be seen in the work of Toyo Ito, Kazuyo Sejima and numerous young studios, and it is for this reason this building is included in the list. Built in the late 70’s in Uehara, a well-to-do suburb of Tokyo less than half an hour from the city’s financial district. As is common in such neighbourhoods, in recent years plots here have been divided and subdivided. Consequently, the Uehara lot is quite small and the dwelling itself is some 9m’s on one side. What defines this project is its structure, an overhead roof that is a beamless slab, supported by six columns.


Natural Ellipse House by Masaki Endoh & Masahiro Ikeda, Tokyo, Japan 2002

Built in the most vibrant shopping and entertainment district in Tokyo, this house is formed from the conflict between the desire for privacy and the need to connect with the lively surrounding neighbourhood. Constructed out of laser-cut iron ribs wrapped in an envelope of fibre-reinforced polymer sheet. The building does not conform to a typical suburban home, rather it results in a space that is extremely sterile, seemingly as if it wasmade as a sculpture rather than a habitable building.


Lucky Drops by Atelier Tekuto, Tokyo, Japan 2005

Again Atelier has a project among the increasing number of houses planned on small plots of land. This however is by far out of the ordinary in shape and size. It is a long, narrow trapezoid with a lower base of 3.2m as the frontage, height of 29.3m as the depth, and upper base of 0.7m at the very end of the site. Due to its site restrictions all living spaces are located underground, creating a very unique space for its owner.


House in a Plum Grove by Kazuyo Sejima & Associates, Tokyo, Japan 2005

The house appears as a white closed cube from the exterior, with the front door is fused with the wall. The doormat and a small cantilever being the only signs of its presence. Furthermore, instead of conventional windows, a few flat, square cutouts appear on the exterior walls, without any seeming order. The logic of this project comes from the inside out.

Kazuyo-Sejima-Associates-House-in-a-Plum-Grove-1 Lise Laurberg

Nakagin Capsule Tower by Kisho Kurokawa architect & associates, Tokyo, Japan 1972

Although this building is not on Townsend’s List, I believe it should be. The Nakagin Capsule Tower is the world’s first capsule architecture built for actual use. The building is composed of two interconnected towers, respectively eleven and thirteen floors high, which house 140 prefabricated capsules which are each self-contained units. Each capsule measures 2.3 m × 3.8 m  × 2.1 m and functions as a small living or office space. Capsules can be connected and combined to create larger spaces. No units have been replaced since the original construction.Currently the tower is no longer in use and is up for demolition. This building can be found here.

NC_03-2 Check out Callum at

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