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Slice of life: the Cut, Koganecho, Japan, by Persimmon Hills Architects

AR House awards 2019 shortlisted: Persimmon Hills Architects’ intriguing folded plane mediates between the gallery and living space of a repurposed sex shop in Yokohama

On the most miniature of sites, the Cut in Koganecho experiments with a bold spatial move. By introducing a fold in the facade of the streetscape, a new domestic and social space is created in a locality seeking to redefine itself, away from its chequered past.

Koganecho is a neighbourhood transformed. Flattened by wartime bombing, and struggling after the decline of industry, it became established as a district of illegal micro-brothels, or chonnoma. An initiative in 2005 sought to ‘clean-up’ the area for good in the run-up to Yokohama International Port’s 150th anniversary. This resulted in the relocation of sex workers from around 150 tiny 20m2 apartments. The void left by the departure of this underground economy needed to be filled, and artist studios and independent galleries were encouraged into the former sex shops. As this new community has begun to take root, the Koganecho Bazaar annual art festival has become a permanent fixture.

‘To siphon off almost half of the building’s footprint is a radical move – the whole emphasis of the space shifts: from a covert and private place, to one that fosters dialogue with the street’

In one of these tiny repurposed apartments, Persimmon Hills Architects have transformed a minimal two-storey space into a studio and gallery for artists-in-residence. Facing the railway line, the project also addresses stepped seating under the overpass, a new public space created in the recent regeneration of the area.

By introducing a double-height diagonal plywood partition, the architects have created a semi-indoor, semi-public courtyard. Alleviating the density of the street frontage and introducing natural light into the studio, the ‘courtyard’ acts as the intermediary between the street and the intimate quarters of the home, attempting to dissolve social barriers. The folded plane bisects the indoor space, reading like a fold in the exterior’s consistent narrow facades. It creates intrigue and depth from the street, with carefully placed openings and layering of spaces. Suddenly the room is no longer just a box, but is rather glimpsed from multiple angles. The interface of the wall also mediates between the commercial, as a gallery space, and the private, as a residential studio.

Cut concept model

Cut concept model

Model of The Cut by Persimmon Hills Architects

Traditionally in Japanese homes, a genkan is an essential space in a home: a place to remove shoes and receive visitors, before stepping up into the home. This courtyard serves a similar purpose, but also allows a flexibility that encourages more of life to take place in this transitional space. An artist could sit here sketching or doing domestic chores and have a conversation with a passer-by, an openness sorely missed in this urban environment. Ordinarily, by tradition and lack of space, people do not often visit each other’s homes. In this proposal, activity can take place outside, or at least in sheltered public view, more like in rural parts of Japan. This gallery-house enhances a sense of community.

Crop ar house shortlist persimmon hills

Crop ar house shortlist persimmon hills

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In the dense realities of Japanese urban living, design is almost always a space-spacing exercise. In this way, to siphon off almost half of the building’s footprint is a radical move. This unconventional proposal shifts the whole emphasis of the space: from a covert and private place in its former life, to a place that fosters dialogue with the street and invites people beyond its narrow threshold.

Persimmon Hills is led by two young architects, Yusuke Kakinoki and Shuhei Hirooka. Their expressed priorities of enhancing the community through contextual design are clear even in this postage-stamp site, demonstrating how architecture can be used to reinvent and enrich its context.

All photographs by Kenta Hasegawa

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

Aoi Phillips 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

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