Lifted in the air to exploit coastal views, this new family home unfolds around a continual promenade
When the clients of Toda House bought this site in the suburbs of Hiroshima with a view over the western coastline of Honshu, they had no architect and no preconceived idea of what they actually wanted to build. What they did know, however, was where they wanted their home to be positioned on the plot; though not in plan, as you might expect. Instead, rather unusually, in section, specifying the height at which they wanted to reside.
‘Can we just have a second storey?’ they asked, having selected their architect in 2006 from a lifestyle magazine feature on talented but untested individuals who have worked in the shadow of more famous and celebrated designers. The crux of the question was really, ‘can our house float in mid air?’, and fortunately they chose an architect capable of bending the rules, as the then 35-year-old Kimihiko Okada had spent the previous seven years in the office of Ryue Nishizawa unpicking the idea of the traditional suburban home on projects such as the Moriyama House in Tokyo (AR August 2007).
The reasoning behind their question and the desire to make their home levitate was not simply an urge to be different or to make their new home stand out on a typical street. The rationale had a number of well-grounded intentions: firstly, to capture those ocean views that could only be seen from a notional second storey level, set at least 5 metres above grade; secondly, to occupy a single room − ideally on one level − to promote family engagement, interaction and shared activity with their young daughter; and thirdly, to build a shop at street level, the client’s longer term ambition. All of which ruled out the more conventional option of building a two-storey villa and roof garden, and all of which justify Okada’s apparently wilful response: a glade of trees, columns and dummy columns containing services set beneath a 115sqm coil of continuous and undivided space that rises higher still in a gentle 360 degree anti-clockwise loop from a first floor entrance to a second floor living room and roof terrace.
From outside, the tapering walls and clerestory windows suggest a series of internal spaces ramping up in a gentle spiral. Okada, however, has avoided the questionable practicality of sloping floors pursued so radically by his former employer at the Rolex Learning Centre in Lausanne (AR May 2010), opting instead for simple sets of steps. The 12 internal risers are divided into four short flights − one on each side of the house’s rectangular plan − that couple up with enclosures for bathrooms and storage to create four distinct points of transition. Visitors ascend 16 steps before even entering the house, then a left turn brings you to three steps between the hallway and the daughter’s bedroom. Three more lead from here to the parents’ bedroom (both simply screened by curtains); four more rise higher still into the kitchen and dining space; and the final two steps reach the summit and connect with the uppermost living room with its panoramic vista and, around the final corner, a study directly above the entrance.
Main living and dining area. Different spaces are denoted by changes in level and subtle variations in the floor texture. The radiused geometry defines wider spaces at each corner
Along the way, different floor finishes denote each change in level, from screed in the hallway, to carpet in the bedrooms, bamboo in the kitchen and timber parquet in the living room. Rising and turning four times en route, other subtleties include incremental shifts in plan and section, with radiused corners seamlessly adjusting the width and geometry of the continuous steel and concrete floorplate to provide broader spaces at each corner. Changes to the height of the perimeter wall establish a greater degree of privacy between street and bedrooms and open up short views across the elevated courtyard and afford more distant panoramic views of the ocean beyond.
‘What is interesting’, Okada says, ‘is that once you start walking and circulating the plan, you soon come back to the beginning, only to realise that you’re one storey higher,’ describing the benefit of his stepped loop in relation to more conventional planning strategies. ‘On a relatively small site you get to walk a long way,’ he continues, ‘and this establishes the perception of distance between spaces and creates a greater sense of spatial generosity that you would find difficult to achieve in a more efficient square plan.’
Plan flows around central garden, Toda House, Hiroshima by Kimihiko Okada
Clearly efficiency was not the architect’s primary concern, and while criticism can be levelled at the design in relation to the ratio of internal volume to exposed surface area, the workability of the plan cannot be denied. Key to this is the provision of a single full-flight of stairs that unlocks the logic and full potential of the plan, providing a shortcut from hallway to living room.
This responds to the family’s current dynamic, allowing guests to bypass both the bedrooms and kitchen when visiting at night, but also establishes a configuration that the couple’s young daughter may come to exploit as she gets older, affording her greater independence with a direct route from bedroom to front door giving her the option to avoid disturbing (or engaging with) her parents and guests.
As with many notable modern houses, the hallway is the spatial fulcrum and it is here that the architect playfully alludes to Le Corbusier’s seminal Villa Savoye, placing a basin by the front door and offering two routes up and through the house, one fast and one slow, that work together to choreograph a new domestic promenade architecturale.
The client’s daughter has direct route from bedroom to front door, having the option to avoiddisturbing her parents
Architect: Kimihiko Okada
Photographs: Toshiyuki Yano