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2005 September: House By Tezuka Architects (Tokyo, Japan)

[ARCHIVE] By building this simple new house, Tezuka Architects have given two homes the shared benefit of a unique family garden; a rare treat in Tokyo

The work of Tezuka Architects has always had an ingenious, playful twist. Roof House (AR October 2001) gave us the naughty-but-nice example of the balustrade-free sloping roof terrace, subsequently copied by many misguided European students where the idea would be completely unworkable. The twist in the tail of their snakelike Natural Science Museum (AR August 2004) was the use of 75mm thick acrylic windows to retain smothering snowdrifts.

And, more recently, the Big Window House completed in Yokohama, recalls Mies’ Tugendhat House with its massive falling glass wall (main photograph, Delight, p98). Here then, with the completion of the Engawa House in Tokyo, a gravity-defying slot window creates a unique relationship between two neighbouring homes.

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Built on land adjacent to their grandparents’ home, opportunistically purchased when put on the market, the house is simple in form; a 16.2m x 4.6m x 3.5m high timber box. This new form not only provides living accommodation for the granddaughter and her husband (while the elder brother lives above the grandparents in the adjacent property), but also vastly improves the existing house’s outlook, previously hemmed in by a boundary wall sited just 500mm from its windows.

Now, the two dwellings share a narrow but rare strip garden, bringing the obvious shared benefits of light, air, and privacy. Linear in plan, the narrow single volume form establishes a simple duality in section, with the street buffered by a continuous 2.2m high storage wall (that also neatly conceals the entrance door) and clerestory lighting above.

The horizontal datum this creates is then projected across the space (via a transverse storage wall and bathroom pod) to establish the height of the engawa’s elongated aperture. The duality is therefore not only one of permeability, or of solid and void (with the architects likening the form to a pair of uneven parallel bars), but also one of controlled views, framing the sky above the street and giving a low level panorama of the garden; a view cone that incidentally and rather cunningly maintains views of the grandparents’ home while giving privacy from big brother above.

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The cross section also assists cross ventilation with warm air naturally exiting via the high-level strip windows. With this project, Tezuka Architects’ playful twist undoubtedly lies in the nine sliding doors that allow the house to completely open to address the newly defined garden. Not a new idea, perhaps, but nevertheless an exceptionally strong formal move.

Unlike many Japanese homes, this one has real capacity, easily accommodating 50 people at its inaugural party which made maximum use of its prestigious garden; an occasion which led to the naming of this fine home as the Engawa House - a name that derives from the Japanese for a multifunctional enclosed verandah, protected by sliding doors. Simple, direct and delightfully translated.

Site area 196sqm Built area 78.5sqm Floor area 78.5sqm

Architect Tezuka Architects, Tokyo
Photographs Edmund Sumner/VlEW

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