Comparing two small houses by Go Hasegawa in Japan
Two dwellings display an equally deft approach to the constraints of the suburb and the freedom of the forest
If tendencies in contemporary Japanese architecture exhibit a problematic disengagement with the city, the work of Go Hasegawa does not. Two recent projects, House in Komazawa and Pilotis in a Forest, reveal a consistent exploration of themes across two distinct contexts and types; in this instance a house in suburban Tokyo and a holiday retreat in an idyllic pine forest near the town of Tsumagoi in Gunma Prefecture.
From the street, the House in Komazawa appears as a gently gabled extruded form, which is uniformly clad in eucalyptus planks topped with a thin red cedar tiled roof. Unlike its neighbours, it is politely set back from the road to define a strip of lawn with a tree as its front yard.
In a neighbourhood characterised by a motley collection of detached, medium-density and high-rise housing, the new dwelling sits between a low block wall along the road edge on one side and a commercial car park on the other.
Strategically, the house is pushed hard against the northern car park boundary in order to create a parking slot and side entrance on the southern edge of the site. The elevation confronting the car park is left blank and there are only three openings (an entrance and a couple of windows) in the two other visible elevations. During the day, the interior as seen from the outside appears dark and impenetrable, which enhances a general sense of imperviousness.
Simplicity of form gives the house an understated presence, forming a counterpoint to its experiential and spatial complexity. When the high window in the front elevation is left open, you can look up diagonally through the dark interior and observe striated light streaming across the ceiling. From the inside, this window frames a section of the sky above the housing on the other side of the narrow street.
In conceptual terms, Go Hasegawa describes this compact (65m2), two-storey house as composed of a patio and an attic, as though the main living floor had been edited out. Paved with small granite stones, like an external patio, the tall ground-floor space forms an open-plan living zone with a kitchen storage unit along one side. Another built-in cabinet acts as a privacy screen around the entrance. Two potted trees take advantage of the light streaming in through the windows.
Tucked into the roof space are two small bedrooms, a bathroom and a laundry cupboard. There is also a long study with a linear work-bench notable for its thin blond timber floor, laid with 20mm spaced gaps to allow for the penetration of light and air. The slatted floor also gives a measure of visual and aural connection with the living space below.
A thin concealed veranda slotted into the roof along the house’s northern edge emanates diffuse light and provides cross ventilation for the bedrooms and bathroom. Under a retractable skylight in the roof, a washbasin is located at one end of the long study adjacent to the bathroom.
The skylight is the source of the mysterious illumination visible when seen from outside. At the other end of the study is a wall of bookshelves. The window in the south elevation is aligned with the circulation slot overlapping the storage unit on the ground floor. Stairs deftly cantilever out of the wall and use the storage unit as a landing before pivoting into this slot.
On both levels, a rich dark veneer of lauan plywood is applied as a lining for walls and furniture, giving the interior a homogenous visual and textural consistency.Three hours north of Tokyo by car, Pilotis in a Forest is an expansive counterpoint to the suburban context and programme of Komawaza.
At 90m2, it also creates a larger space. Clad in corrugated, galvanised sheeting, the house forms a platform in the forest canopy at a height designed to provide views of distant mountains when the surrounding deciduous trees shed their leaves.
Themes of attic and patio again play out in this project. Within a building envelope 9m high, a 6.5m undercroft forms a monumental covered patio with a concrete slab floor delimited by the supporting thin piloti and enclosed by the trees. Echoing Metabolist Kiyonori Kikutake’s famous Sky House of 1958, long elegant stairs broken by a 90° landing choreograph an ascent to the gently raking skillion platform above.
The stairs arrive at a terrace deck made from thin slats of red cedar spaced 20mm apart, similar to the floor of the study
in the House in Komazawa. Here, however, the deck is external and calibrated to accentuate a sensation of bleeding and spatial dissolution into the surrounding forest. This feeling is restated by the framing of the distant mountain and forest across the terrace from the dining room, and a glass panel set in the floor under the dining table.
The interior lining is also executed in plywood with lauan as a hardwood veneer. These two projects reveal the extent to which Go Hasegawa is able to find and exploit productive tensions at the intersection of client briefs, the limitations of a given context and the sharp material differences between inside and outside.
These tensions are explored through rigorous testing, employing model-making and spatial imagination, which in combination are aimed at revealin innovation at the limits of architectural possibility. Moments of collapse into striated light and shadow, or spatial dissolution into the unbounded forest are the fruitful and compelling end results of this process.
Architect: Go Hasegawa
Photographs: Iwan Baan