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Ascending order: Loop Terrace, Kobe, Japan, Tomohiro Hata Architect and Associates

AR House awards 2019 shortlisted: Inspired by the 17th century Katsura Imperial Villa, Tomohiro Hata Architect and Associates’ Loop Terrace inverts its form by focusing views inwards and providing sanctuary from the bustle of Kobe

Loop Terrace is like a sparkling white spaceship. Although its free-standing volume imitates its more muted nondescript neighbours, its form is composed of a concrete base with a two-storey timber structure clad in white galvanised sheet-steel. The centre is hollowed out to create an open courtyard, which is planted with slender trees that emerge above the roofline. From the street, there is little indication of its interior domestic world. The building is without the customary street-facing balconies of its context, and only small apertures puncture the exterior steel skin.

‘This central space gives a sense of bucolic interiority. The courtyard not only creates places to see and be seen from, but becomes a raised stage for outdoor living’

In a dense residential neighbourhood in port-city Kobe, Japan, Loop Terrace was designed by local studio Tomohiro Hata Architect and Associates. The practice, established in 2005, specialises in domestic architecture with an emphasis on incorporating courtyards and terraces to dramatise interior and exterior boundaries. Taking this idea further, Loop Terrace is a complex single-family dwelling connected by a series of stepped platforms and stairs. On approach, the exposed concrete and mesh street facade, flanked by garages and bicycle storage, opens onto a staircase leading up to the courtyard. The interior garden is surrounded by the principal living spaces: bedroom, living room, kitchen, dining room, bathroom and washroom. Study rooms and a playroom occupy the floor above. Internally, all the floors and walls are lined in plywood, with large windows and full-height openings facing onto the courtyard. A sequence of walkways, stairs and generous terraces, partly open to the sky, provide circulation between levels.

Ar house shortlist tomohiro hata plan

Ar house shortlist tomohiro hata plan

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The complexity of this arrangement gives the building the illusion of being larger than it is. This layout was inspired by the historic Katsura Imperial Villa. Like European Modernists Bruno Taut, Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier, Hata is inspired by the 17th century Japanese palace and its harmonious relationship between architecture and landscape. Similarly, Loop Terrace offers a direct connection to nature and employs exposed timber within a limited material palette. However, unlike the imperial villa, which cultivates views out, Loop Terrace inverts this with views orientated inwards, ‘cutting into the Katsura’s plan and rotating it so that it encloses into a circle’.

Ar house shortlist tomohiro hata section

Ar house shortlist tomohiro hata section

Click to download

If the house can be considered the basic unit of the city, this building could do more to engage its immediate surroundings and make Kobe a more richly particular place. But while it may largely disregard the interplay between the street and inner life, the house successfully plays with the tension between inside and outside. The courtyard enables its residents to live outside the inner sanctum of their home, but be detached from the context of the neighbourhood and their neighbours. Playing on Japanese landscape traditions of making gardens a microcosm of nature, and invigorated by Kobe’s humid subtropical climate, this central space gives a sense of bucolic interiority. Loop Terrace is about the experience of moving from one platform or space to the other. In this way, movement is seen as an asset to domestic life. The courtyard not only creates places to see and be seen from, but becomes a raised stage for outdoor living.

All photographs courtesy of the architect

The AR July/August issue on AR House + Social housing is available to buy here

Thomas Aquilina is an alumnus of the New Architecture Writers (N.A.W.), which is a free programme for emerging design writers, developing the journalistic skill, editorial connections and critical voice of its participants. N.A.W. focuses on black and minority ethnic emerging writers who are under-represented across design journalism and curation. N.A.W. was founded in 2017 by Phineas Harper and Tom Wilkinson with the Architecture Foundation and the Architectural Review and you can read more about it here