House NA by Sou Fujimoto 08.03.12

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It sometimes seems that no matter what else happens in architecture, the Japanese single family house is an endless source of new designs. Although these buildings – typified by a compactness, unity of material and formal expression, and more often than not a stark minimalism that borders on the uninhabitable – can seem contrived, this cannot be said of the work of Sou Fujimoto, easily one of the most consistently intelligent of the current generation of Japanese architects. And with the new House NA in Tokyo, he has really outdone himself.

House NA is a small residence built for a young couple, but it looks more like a stack of vitrines in which one might find one of Damien Hirst's sharks. The building is steel-framed, with ridiculously thin floor plates, and is almost entirely glazed to the outside. Inside, it is spatially contiguous, with all the functions sharing a single volume. Each use is given its own floor space, which are shifted vertically, accessed via short flights of stairs or simply by climbing up and down. According to Fujimoto, the building demonstrates "a unity of separation and coherence": meaning that the house is both a single room and a collection of tiny rooms, with the circulation apparatus used alternatively as stairs, desks and seats. It obviously provides a number of challenges to its clients, who must be both completely lacking in shame and agile as mountain goats to use it properly. Fujimoto describes the house as being diagrammatically based on the notion of living in a tree: "The white steel-frame structure itself shares no resemblance to a tree. Yet the life lived and the moments experienced in this space are a contemporary adaptation of the richness once experienced by the ancient predecessors from the time when they inhabited trees."

Leaving aside the question of whether or not our ancestors were ever tree-dwellers, the building shows a sophistication that is typically Fujimoto. His buildings, such as the superlative Tokyo Apartments (Icon 085), show an ability to take a deceptively simple idea and whittle it down to solutions that are both intellectually rich and ridiculously refined.

It's not easy to strip a house down to such a gossamer-thin structure, with no visible sign of the air-conditioning that makes this greenhouse of a building habitable at all. But beyond that, House NA makes a number of historical connections. In its ruthless abstraction and its challenges to everyday life, it harks back to Peter Eisenman's dwelling experiments of the 1970s, and it even goes beyond that so one can also see strong hints of Paul Rudolph's stylish brutalism, in particular his 1989 Modulightor apartments in New York – a similar study in highly compact, spatially complex living.

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Image

Iwan Baan

 

Words

Douglas Murphy

quotes story

The house is both a single room and a collection of tiny rooms, a unity of separation and coherence

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