February 1, 2011
A House for Repose
In its first completed project, a young architecture firm considers the needs of a retired Japanese couple.
Building a house for your parents is a time-honored tradition in the architecture world. Richard Rogers, Charles Gwathmey, Richard Meier, and Robert Venturi are among those who made their names with the help of an early parental commission. Eri Ishida, a 31-year-old Japanese architect, is the latest to join their ranks—but she hardly used the opportunity for brazen self-promotion. Rather, she and Akiyoshi Takagi, who together founded Tokyo’s Kite Architecture last year, have produced a modest, quietly inventive house tailor-made to the specific needs of its occupants.
Ishida’s parents are in their sixties and have been married for more than three decades. When they retire in a few years, they plan to move from their home near Kobe to Uji, on the outskirts of Kyoto, where the family had long kept a weekend house. But it was “physically uncomfortable,” says Ishida, who spent time there when she was growing up. “It contained many small and cold rooms facing the north that were connected by a dark corridor. Definitely not a place my parents had in mind to spend their days together once retired.”
For their new residence, her parents wanted a varied and flexible interior that would give them their own space while still allowing them to feel each other’s presence. In response, Kite strived for a delicate variation of space. The 1,000-square-foot house is essentially one room broken up by two closed boxes (containing storage, two bathrooms, and a kitchen). “Because of the nonrectangular outline of the floor plan, the boxes slightly disturb the sight lines through the open living spaces,” Ishida says. “You know somebody is there, but you can’t see the person directly.”
The tentlike pitched roof makes the middle of the house feel open and airy but leaves the smaller rooms on either end cozy and private. In creating this balance between openness and privacy, the architects were also mediating between two cultures. The flexibility of the one-room interior, the absence of real division walls, and the allowance for seating on the floor are typical of traditional Japanese living; but the open-ness, the high ceiling, and the modern furniture resemble Western homes. Which suits the occupants just fine. “Sometimes I find it very comfortable to live Western style,” the architect’s mother, Yoshiko Ishida, says. “But at times I prefer a Japanese style of living.” With the new house, she and her husband should have the best of both worlds.