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IDEAS / architecture

Garden House. A Vertical Forest

2 February 2018

words:  Natalie Donat-Cattin

photos:  Jian Yong Khoo

Exit the metro station at Hatchobori and walk along the main road towards the Kamejima River. Just before the bridge take a right turn, you might end up in a narrow street where you will stumble upon a curious object – squashed between two housing blocks: an urban vertical forest.

It is the Garden House, designed by Ryue Nishizawa. It persists not unlike a plant in a pavement crack. Like all his projects it transmits a sense of lightness: a series of floating elements sandwiched between two solid blocks. Its porous green facade contrasts with the compactness of the surrounding tiles, complementing the orange and white colours by enhancing its luminosity. In the deserted street, it stands out as an unusual, lively metropolitan component, willing to question the traditional house typology.

Due to the narrowness of the street, the only way to experience the edifice is to promenade up the stairs of the opposite building (luckily in Japan most building’s circulation is public). From here it is possible to observe the building at different levels: a journey culminating with a striking aerial view. From the top, the house is experienced in its essence: the thick concrete slabs mark the facade rhythm, while allowing for exterior activities (outdoor eating table, sitting space and roof-terrace).

Square and circle geometries alternate each other in a game of shapes. Sharp edges and curves give life to unexpected spaces: rigid (minimal living interior) and flexible (outdoor terraces) at the same time. From this interaction arises architecture: basic needs versus pleasure. The aged, rough and rudimental concrete slabs, confined to their materiality and form, welcome the greenery as an element able to break out of the grid and geometry.

At the ground floor level, the house is accessed through a tiny path between the gravel and greenery. A series of stones mark the transition from the horizontal streetscape to the vertical living habitat. Reminiscent of old Japanese tea houses, they welcome the owner into a familiar environment, inviting him to abandon all burdens and sorrows, before entering the place of rest, shielded by a veil of plants and fabric.

The curtains fully protect the interior from public view. The living spaces are pushed to the back in order to provide a higher level of privacy. They are incredibly small, reduced to the minimum, and well picturing the need for space of the Japanese lifestyle. Despite this, the house allows for a fluid flow between interior and exterior, creating a dreamy atmosphere: a magical vertical forest in Tokyo’s urban greyness.

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architasters / project by Natalie Donat-Cattin and Jian Yong Khoo. It is a platform for speculation and discussion, functioning as a complementary repository for their design work.