The Barbican Centre – A place of connection, a place of transition between two different worlds: the street and the courtyard. The former, a reflection of everyday life. The latter, an image of the pleasure of stopping, sitting, observing and thinking. Two universes governed by opposing laws: that of motion and that of stillness.
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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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Kusama Pumpkin, Naoshima – The pumpkin often has a connection with the magical world. In Cinderella, it turns into a beautiful white carriage, darting towards the dance. In the same way, it could easily be one of the strange and wonderful inhabitants of the Lewis Carroll world – out of scale, context and with no apparent purpose. If the pumpkin could talk it would ask nonsensical questions while giving absurd non-answers.
Water temple, designed by Tadao Ando, hides in the inland of Awaji Island. Despite its close proximity to the sea (only a 15 min walk) the building turns its back to the ocean to embrace the hillside. The road to reach it, is deserted and steep: a series of greenhouses and fields are the only panorama’s highlights.
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.
Tokyo – Close your eyes. If you do so you will hear the noise at the Shibuya Crossing and the smell of the sakura flowers in bloom in Shinjuku on an April’s day, while walking around Gyoen National Garden. Close your eyes tighter. Do you feel the spatial tension? From the small labyrinth-streets of Nakano to the huge Roppongi’s skyscrapers, Tokyo paints the 21st century Japanese society on one single canvas.