AR House 2015 Highly Commended: Original materials from a traditional storehouse were used to build an entirely new structure in this tsunami-devastated landscape
It is delightful to be surprised by a building, and this small house has many secrets, not least its voluminous day-lit space inside. But the charm of the Rebirth House is also rooted in its historical ambiguity. Despite its traditional roof and walls, it is actually entirely newly built.
Once a traditional storehouse, the small 120-year-old outbuilding was damaged in the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011. With a magnitude of 9.0, the earthquake off the Pacific coast of Tōhoku and theresulting tsunami killed more than 15,000 people.z
‘The charm of the Rebirth House is also rooted in its historical ambiguity. Despite its traditional roof and walls, it is actually entirely newly built’
Ryo Matsui considered re-using the structure but found it unstable and beyond repair. The architect and client were left to consider what ‘should be kept for future generations’. They decided to save the original materials such as the roof tiles, ridge and ornaments. These were collected, restored and re-used in the building of an entirely new structure.
It was the architect and client’s intention that the new house retain the appearance of the storehouse. This subterfuge meant hiding the additional windows required to create a more habitable space. ‘We concealed their existence behind a lace screen,’ write the architects. ‘The original perforated bricks are painted white. Though it seems to be the old storehouse from the outside, when we enter, we are wrapped with gentle light from many windows.’
In this way, Rebirth House is like a contemporary ghost of the old. The relatively blank facade with its single window is enlivened at night when the lights are on and more windows are revealed. But during the day, the blank walls conceal a surprisingly warm, naturally lit domestic interior, which in section, is considerably larger than it appears.
The timber-lined room with a mezzanine is small, like many Japanese houses, but again, rich in ambiguity. The exposed timber beams and daub walls suggest traditional construction, but the contemporary feel to the open-plan design has an unmistakably modern freshness. The basement wine cellar is another secret, and here, in the continued spirit of re-use, the walls are built using the leftover formwork from the moulding of new bricks for the outer wall.
Japan has a rich tradition of compact, architect-designed single-family homes and, among this year’s entries to AR House, there was a rich and varied selection of architecture from the country. But in general, among the submissions from around the world, there was a feeling that many houses lacked a sense of context or place. They could be built for anyone, located anywhere.
For the award-winning houses, the jury sought an architecture that emerged from its place and people, as well as the brief. With Rebirth House, the judges found an architecture that quite simply could not have happened anywhere else. The home endeared itself to the jury with the confident way it combined traditional materials with contemporary design. It was neither deferential to the past, nor dismissive and disrespectful. It remembers this place, the earthquake that destroyed it, while looking to the future. The architect and client were conscious of the need to preserve history, but didn’t place the buildings in aspic. It is a perfect, quirky and entirely unique home, surprising in the generosity of its interior, and successful in the ambition suggested by its name – a house reborn.