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Dig in the Sky House, Osaka, Japan by Alphaville Architects

Commended: A genuinely urban intervention on a tight site in Osaka rewrites the rules of modern domestic life

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This new house in Osaka divided the jury. Some thought it wilfully complex, both formally and spatially, others admired the architects’ response to the challenging issue of how to build creatively in the incredibly congested centres of Japanese cities. Indeed, among the group of 12 winning projects, it is one of the few genuinely urban houses.

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Sectional perspective

It certainly squares up to its context of an unforgiving slot hemmed in between two existing dwellings. Japan’s seismic regulations stipulate that all buildings must be physically separate from each other, so its cities are full of structures that come tantalisingly close to their neighbours, but never touch.

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Slots of glazing provide tantalising glimpses and through views of domestic life

Each building becomes an individual object, and this object quality is perhaps most powerfully expressed in the design of contemporary Japanese houses.

The Dig in the Sky House is a simple concept aggregated to create a series of complex and variable domestic spaces. Its basic premise is to separate zones of circulation from zones of inhabitation, thus initiating an unconventional kind of domestic spatial experience.

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Sequence of sectional perspectives

Three steel-framed volumes housing the usual functions (dining, kitchen, living and bedrooms) are linked by a network of floating ‘tubes’ containing ramps, corridors and staircases. This network articulates multiple routes around the house and choreographs different ways of experiencing it. ‘To live is the activity of moving’, pronounce Alphaville, the house’s architects, ‘so we try to make moving stimulating.’ Two of the three volumes are lifted off the ground on pilotis to free up space at ground level for a carport.

With its constantly changing levels, skewed geometry and sense of compression and release, the effect is rather like being trapped inside a Vorticist painting. and doubtless it will keep its inhabitants well exercised. Yet though it might seem unorthodox, the house offers a challenging new perspective on what modern domestic life might be − dynamic, constantly unfolding and full of possibilities.

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Elevating part of the house above ground frees up space at ground level

FACT FILE

Architect: Alphaville
Photographs: Shigeo Ogawa

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