Case study 2
The individual house
One of Japan’s rising architectural stars, Sou Fujimoto was born in Hokkaido, graduated from Tokyo University and set up his own studio in Tokyo in 2000. Widely acclaimed, he has won numerous awards for work that includes several pioneering houses. Fujimoto’s designs explore the interaction of architecture, people and nature and he has become renowned for living spaces that point to a new way of designing houses. He lectures at UCLA and Tokyo University.
How has house design changed in the last 50 years?
In the 20th century, western-style houses had to have a bedroom, living area and dining room – each space had a name and a specific function. Now this system is becoming blurred and people want more multi-functional spaces.
In House N I tried to create a gradient space. The move from inside to outside is gradual and people can use the space how they like, depending on the season and the time of day. I’m very influenced by the traditional Japanese house, which is built in layers and particularly by the engawa, the in-between space that is neither indoors nor outdoors. Designing a house is like designing a landscape – people should be able to walk through or stay in one place.
**Has technology had an impact on house design? **
There’s no doubt that new technology is changing people’s lifestyles. I’m interested in how it affects the human body and how I can relate that to architecture. I use my iPhone and the internet all the time and I can see that technology detaches us from nature. The sense of “outside” is now more precious than ever. And that’s what I want to translate into architecture.
Are people open to more radical ideas these days?
I think so. A new house I’m just finishing for a young couple in Tokyo – House NA – is built like a pile of boxes on different levels. In one way the house is like a single space, but each room is also a tiny space of its own. The clients said they wanted to live like nomads within the house – they didn’t have specific plans for each room. The house looks radical but for the clients it seemed quite natural. With House O – which has a beautiful ocean-front location – the clients wanted a simple panoramic box, but we suggested an alternative design that offered different angles and viewpoints.
Is ecology an issue in house design?
I’m very interested in this subject but it’s about something more fundamental than using solar panels and recyclable materials. I like to try to build in a way that is sensitive to the environment – using the flow of air and the positioning of trees, for example. But all my houses are air-conditioned. The Japanese summer is very hot. With House N, the outer shell cuts 70 per cent of the direct sunlight so that has an effect. Ideally, you want to combine practical ecology with an interesting architectural experience.
Is furniture more important than it was?
One hundred years ago the Japanese house had almost no furniture – maybe just a zabuton (cushion for sitting on the floor). So to have furniture at all is a big change. I’m interested in furniture that can be part of the architectural landscape and architecture that can work as furniture. I tried that with Final Wooden House where the walls and floor act as both the structure and furniture.
What’s the key to good house design?
I think there has to be a good relationship between inside and outside the house. Architecture is not so changeable but the weather, the seasons and the people inside are, so it’s our job to find a framework to accommodate those changes. If the architecture is too strong it can eliminate those variables – which we don’t want.