This project epitomises the idea of quality, not quantity. Going against the ‘bigger is better’ school of thought (in which resale value dictates the design: typically, usable floor area is maximised and the site is crammed with many rooms across two or even three levels), Torafu went for small, exquisitely-detailed spaces, valuing the experiential over the material. The four long skylight tubes allow the internal spaces to be bathed in light while affording privacy from neighbours. These sky windows mean the interior is intricately connected to the exterior; shifts in light, weather and seasons are marked by a changing palette of light qualities. The four windows become abstract, framed views of the sky and clouds. The shell of the house is built as a single skin of in-situ concrete. Torafu were kind enough to share some construction photos showing the exquisite craftsmanship of the concrete form makers.
“This site is located in a quiet residential region reclaimed on a hill of Yokohama. With neighbouring houses lined very close together, this flag-shaped site meets a road at a verge of no more than 3 meters in width.
Since the site is tilted to the north, and the neighbouring house to the south is two-storied and built on tiered, higher ground, at first it seemed almost impossible to let in light from the south, although the client, a married couple who has lived in this place for a long time, wanted a small but sunshiny house of one-storey just as their child became independent from them.
The roof, which looks as if barnacled, lets in light through the glass on the top of the tube-shaped windows that are set avoiding shades and eye gaze of the neighbors. On the inside of the house clearly appear the shapes of these ‘tubes’, and the arris of a kind of folded plate roof softly separate the whole residential space. The house being one-storied, we were able to form the roof with freedom.
And taking advantage of the freedom, we aimed to make the exterior and the interior appear as two sides of the same object. Although the main living area is no larger than approximately 7×7.5 meters, appropriate distance can be kept among the scenes of food, clothing and housing by the arris of the ceiling moderately separating every space along them and by the height of the ceiling itself. High arris connect neighboring spaces, and low arris separate them into, for instance, a living room and a bedroom. Infixed at the space where the ceiling is highest is a wooden mass. Inside the mass are a kitchen, bathroom and sanitation facilities, while the top of the mass is used as a designing office for their son. The top of the mass, which is a lot like a loft, and other spaces are visually separated but family members’ presence can be felt when they are there. We decided that we used reinforced concrete to capitalize on the folded plate roof structure, thereby making it possible to fulfill the pillar-less interior space with the walls and the slabs uniformly 150mm in thickness. And since it requires only one concrete casting on the upper building frame, we could achieve an even frame with no placing joint that can often become RC structure’s weakness. As opposed to the concrete substrate surface of the exterior, the walls and the ceiling on the inside of the house are given a white finish to become a stage where light and shadow interplay. Since the floor and the built-in furniture are made of medium-density fiberboard and given a paint finish, the furniture looks as if it has grown from the floor. The roof not only lets in light and provides cover from rain, but on the inside, it gives the space a moderate separation. The brightness and softness of light differs according to season and time of day, which changes the look of the place. The windows on the roof cut out the sky and constantly project the changes of the nature.”
Abbie Freestone is the head of community at Assemble and has a background in urbanism and architectural communications. She is committed to uncovering new ways of thinking about cities. A pole vaulter in a former life, she’s forever chasing views from high places and after living in California and Oregon has a love for mountains (and mimosas).