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Tokyo garden house by Ryue Nishizawa 13.02.13

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Strolling past Ryue Nishizawa's Garden and House on the streets of Tokyo, it wouldn't be difficult to mistake this unusual residence, hemmed in on both sides by tall office and apartment buildings, for a minimalist haven for urban gardening. On its tiny 8 x 4m plot, and with no real facade to speak of, this surprising four-storey concrete stack of slabs is held together by little more than three reinforced concrete columns and a thin steel post.

The surprises continue inside – there are no interior walls to create separate rooms. Because of space constraints, Nishizawa has instead turned to devices such as full-height windows and semi-opaque curtains to define the interior and separate inside from outside. The lack of interior walls means that the white-painted steel staircase, which runs the entire height of the building, takes on greater importance and acts to separate the function of each floor from the others and to partition areas for living on each floor.

The living room and kitchen area occupy the ground floor, with the main bedroom on the first, the bathroom on the second and an additional bedroom on the third floor. A roof terrace occupies the top floor, which also incorporates a small concrete box that can be used for storage or as an additional guest room. On one level's "outside space", a layer of thin soil replaces actual flooring in another playful nod to the blurring of lines between inside and out.

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Given the constraints of the plot, particularly its lack of direct sunlight, Nishizawa opted to create a skeleton structure screened off by a variety of potted plants rather than employ a more traditional facade and walls. The potted plants act as living walls to screen the inhabitants from the view of passers-by and eliminate the need for light-blocking curtains, while still allowing for the feeling of space provided by the extensive use of glass and other transparent materials.

While to some extent the inhabitants of this dwelling have traded privacy for openness, more intimate spaces have been shielded from view on the north side by the columns as well as by thin screens. On the south side, concrete benches at various levels help screen the space from the road, and mark out external spaces such as social dining or meeting areas.

Though the undoubted lack of privacy and the high-maintenance demands of keeping all the plants in prime condition might be enough to put some people off, Nishizawa's clients previously commuted to Tokyo from their suburban home, so one imagines that the joy of living within walking distance of Tokyo's thriving cultural centre helps to mitigate any difficulties that might otherwise arise from keeping the home in its show-garden ready condition.

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Iwan Baan



Crystal Bennes

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It wouldn't be difficult to mistake this unusual residence for a minimalist haven for urban gardening

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