SN House by Atelier A5 11.08.11

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If you imagine houses as plants, grown instead of built, then the landscape of the sprawling suburban hinterland of Tokyo can be thought of as a giant fallow field in which a random collection of species have taken root and are proliferating freely. These houses, despite their genetic diversity, have much in common – uniform codes governing maximum volume and solar access, designs that reflect similar family structures, constrained sites and resources, and shared attitudes towards the limits of public claims on the private realm.

SN House, a family home designed by Tokyo trio Atelier A5 in the city's Setagaya district, is notable for the directness with which these drivers are converted into built form. Each factor is given a taciturn, rationalist response. The maximum volume as defined by the sunlight regulations is resolved into a squat ziggurat. The private realm is expanded beyond the envelope by reinterpreting the boundary fence as a privacy screen for the main public zones. The sleeping spaces on the upper levels are uninflected boxes, clad in black metal, with the bare minimum for terrace railings. A simple black and white colour scheme guides interpretation of the volumes – black means exterior, white means interior.

Sadahiro Shimizu, who shares the practice with wife Yuko and partner Masatoshi Matsuzaki, describes their approach as a kind of Tokyo-style pragmatism born of the city's cramped spaces. "We are primarily concerned with the physical effects of the building on our clients' lives; how to squeeze the maximum potential out of tight sites. For example, we use the fence to exploit the required 50cm setback from the boundary as part of the interior."

This dryness of treatment does not preclude a bit of dissembling. With its veiled transparencies, metal sheathings and monochrome finishes, the SN House aspires to a steel-and-glass aesthetic; for cost reasons it is in fact an entirely wooden construction. In this can be found another aspect of Tokyo's urban culture – its delight in artifice.




Ken'ichi Suzuki



Julian Worrall

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SN House is notable for the directness with which these drivers are converted into built form

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