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Nakanosawagawa House in Sapporo, Japan by Ryo Yamada

AR House 2015 Best of the Rest: a standardised wooden structure allows this home to change to suit its residents

Few cities in the world see as much snowfall as Sapporo in winter – almost 6 metres falls on average every year. Heating was obviously a priority for architect Ryo Yamada, but so was the creation of an interior that would be comfortable during long, cold winters indoors but also take advantage of bright, warm summers.

Externally the house draws little attention, a basic cubic form that blends with its residential counterparts, but it is internally that Nakanosawagawa House presents its reinterpretation of the Japanese dwelling.


Floor plans - click to expand

At the client’s request, the interior was left incomplete. Yamada says, ‘if this house could speak, it would say ‘I dream never to be completed’. The result is a fascinating, ever-evolving interior, based on a simple distribution of pillars and the bridging of areas with playful bridges and ladders. Without the furniture and clutter, all that would reveal the space as a home is the wood-burning stove – the only homely element that hasn’t been stripped back.

At the heart of this ability to customise is the ‘tree house’ floor – an upper area accessed via ladders in which a miniature village of simple wooden houses can be constructed: any number of configurations can change both the nature of the house and how it is experienced.

Despite this freedom, the structure itself is based upon Japanese architectural standards. The pillars are installed at intervals of 1.82m, known as ‘Ichi-ken’ – the length of a tatami mat. The pillars’ diameter is 105mm, known as ‘Sansun-gobu’ and the floor-to-beam height ‘Kyu-shaku’. Its playful nature belies a system of standardisation that would make this dwelling easily repeated.



The interior materiality also speaks of Nakanosawagawa House’s ever-changing nature. The pine structure has been left completely bare, and simple metal balustrades with plastic mesh convey a sense of impermanence and ‘work in progress’.

But a family is, of course, always a work in progress. While we cling to rigid definitions of reception room, master bedroom and living room, Yamada’s plan refreshingly uses the labels ‘space 1, space 2 and space 3’. Families will always evolve, grow or shrink – even move out and let others move in. The simple question Nakanosawagawa House poses is why should the space in which they live remain static?

Nakanosawagawa House

Architect: Ryo Yamada

Structural adviser: Katsuhiko Yamawaki

Construction: Oooka Industry, Sapporo

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