In Praise Of Shadows – “…what strikes the eye is the massive roof of tile or thatch and the heavy darkness that hangs beneath the eaves. Even at midday cavernous darkness spreads over all beneath the roof’s edge, making entryway, doors, walls, and pillars all but invisible.”
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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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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.
Palazzo del Lavoro – The building stood before us imposing and abandoned. A broken glass and multiple graffiti were evidence that many before us had violated its solitude. Right through a smashed window we penetrated into the concrete soul of the building. Here, an infinite space opened in front of us: a basilica of our time, a cathedral of architecture with no god or religion, a modern days’ ruin.
The Convent de la Tourette hovers weightlessly on a hill overlooking the nearby town, uncannily reminiscent of a temple atop the Athenian Acropolis. Visitors willing to make the pilgrimage are initially met with a visual field of low intrinsic interest – but the beauty of the architecture slowly reveals itself the more one looks.
“La Tourette is in-situ cast concrete, and it reads as a singular structure in spite of its volumetric and formal complexities and apparently tectonic language. The monastery is suspended between earth and sky; it echoes the dark depths and gravity of the earth while reaching towards the sky, hovering weightlessly on its dense system of piloti. This building merges the opposing human dreams of flying and being buried in the earth…