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Square House by TNA, Karuizawa, Nagano, Japan

TNA produce another unique, contemporary home with an inherent clarity and finesse. Photography by Daico Ano

When visiting Makoto Takei and Chie Nabeshima’s office in the Setagaya district of Tokyo, the need to communicate through an interpreter brought focus to how each project was described, as the youthful couple attempted to sum up each building in just one line. ‘This house has four elevations and four windows… this one becomes part of the forest… and this one reaches to up toward the sky like a plant.’ Even without these clipped commentaries, the conceptual origins of each project has an inherent clarity, attracting the attention of two consecutive Emerging Architecture Awards juries, with Ring House (the woody one) and Mosaic House (the photo-tropic one) commended in our 2007 and 2008 awards programmes.

Having previously seen their work in a magazine, the client of their latest house (described by TNA as ‘a couple and two dogs’) liked what they saw and supported TNA in pursuing the same degree of conceptual clarity, which in this instance sees the metaphor relating to bamboo - the predominant species on their site in Karuizawa, Nagano. ‘It’s as if the building foundation has grown from the ground like thin blades of bamboo grass,’ say TNA, explaining how 75mm² hollow sections extend through the house to support both the floor and roof. ‘We thought that the building and landscape should merge naturally.’

Capturing something of the spatial continuity of a forest, the interior of this weekend retreat is essentially boundless, enveloped in a full-height glass skin. This is something of a departure for TNA who, until now, have brought distinction to each of their houses by placing holes in walls that relate to specific contexts.

‘Here, the walls are insubstantial and instead, division and containment are moderated by collections of slender columns that mark out spaces for a bed, a fireplace, the kitchen and bathtub’

The same elements then place their feet lightly upon the forest floor, extending up to 8m in height. In total, 76 columns have been deployed, but not all are placed for structural integrity. With an apparently casual attitude to the pursuit of structural authenticity (a philosophical issue that may have stifled a more earnest techie-architect), TNA’s composition is a spatial response, not a technical one - a trait that seems prevalent among this generation of Japanese architects, who prioritise compositional over technical resolution. Some columns are redundant, while others incorporate essential services such as water pipes, electrics and telecommunications.

Square by name and square by nature, the house has a regular plan that gives the client a relatively generous 83m² of living space. Spatial irregularity, more akin to the sightlines in a forest, is given by the linear column lines, appearing more solid when seen in oblique and dissolving when seen head on.

Having both served their apprenticeship with Takaharu and Yui Tezuka at Tezuka Architects (AR October 2009), the duo set up a practice in 2004 and have since then repeatedly demonstrated how to produce unique contemporary homes with an inherent clarity and finesse. The AR looks forward to seeing work of greater scale and complexity in the future.

Architect TNA, Tokyo, Japan
Structural engineer Akira Suzuki
Lighting designer Masahide Kakudate

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