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Atelier-Bisque Doll by UID Architects, Minoh, Osaka, Japan

AR House 2011 Commended: UID’s structurally and spatially sophisticated house for a doll maker and artist rethinks the notion of walls and boundaries. Photography by H Ueda

This is no ordinary house. It is in fact a doll’s house, but not in the conventional sense of the word.

Although the Japanese obsession with toys and miniatures may have inspired some architects to delve deeper into this type of doll’s house, UID Architects resisted the temptation to upscale the traditional pitched roof format and hinged front facade. Instead, they deployed a different system of screens to create privacy for their clients, a doll maker and artist, who live and work on site.

Providing a home for the couple and a studio-cum-gallery, the 151m² house contains two blocks of accommodation, separated by an internal pathway. Taking advantage of a 1.2m level change across the site, the more private residential spaces occupy the higher level. On the one side, they make the most of the southerly aspect, whereas on the other they overlook the studio/gallery/living space.

The studio occupies the lower terrace, optimising daylight from the north and addressing the street beyond. The two parts are then embraced by three rectangular ribbon-like steel frames that form spectacular cantilevers, reaching out to enclose the landscape beyond. This spatial strategy allowed the architect to occupy the entire site, while meeting stringent local planning codes that specified a building should occupy 60 per cent of the plot, and that at least 10 per cent of the site should be planted with a range of tall, medium- and low-level trees.

The architects rejected the tendency to enclose the site with a boundary wall, stating instead that they wanted to create ‘spaces that have a new connection to the city, by rethinking the notion of walls and fences that traditionally obstruct boundaries’. They wanted to treat architecture, structure and landscape equally, and through this the territory of the house extends beyond the site’s limits to take in the activity of people walking on the street and to borrow the landscape of adjacent gardens.

Although the architects have produced a structurally and spatially sophisticated response to the site and brief, they have not eliminated the potential for wit and playfulness in their design. The jury was amused by the pair of levitating front doors, which maintains the continuity of the lowest steel ribbon while providing access for those visitors who resist the everyday temptation to limbo dance their way on to the site.

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