November 1, 2008
A Pointed Response
In Japan a “sharp cone” answers a young family’s divergent needs.
Just 34 years old, Makoto Tanijiri has already established himself as the go-to guy for young couples in search of highly individual homes. The Hiroshima, Japan–based architect is the principal of Suppose Design Office and has about 60 completed projects to his name, the bulk of them single-family houses. Each is as distinctive as its brief: one dwelling looks like a hollowed-out rock; another is a riff on a four-car garage. His latest offering, in Higashihiroshima, is nicknamed the “sharp cone” for its dominant roof.
“The strangeness of this project doesn’t come from the shape of the roof but from the fenceless relation between the site and the house,” Tanijiri says, explaining that the 2,648-square-foot lot, rather large for a Japanese residential neighborhood, was the starting point for the design. What’s more, the clients—Atsushi Takata and his wife, Yukie (both in their late twenties), and their three small children—made a seemingly contradictory request for both privacy and a feeling of openness. The muddy land, on a former rice paddy, had to be excavated three feet in order to reach solid ground, but instead of simply filling the hole with a concrete foundation like all the neighboring houses, Tanijiri carved out a half-sunken living area topped by an unbroken band of windows. “I don’t like to put money in something you don’t even see and that doesn’t make the house any more beautiful,” says Tanijiri, who is sensitive to small budgets. (The Takatas’ house came in at a mere $168,606.)
In a similar spirit of economy, the scooped-out soil was put to use. “Making the leftovers into piles around the house guarantees the clients’ privacy,” Tanijiri says. “It also makes an excellent playground for the children.”
The rest of the structure sits atop the living room like a tall black hat, shrouding the upper-level bedrooms in complete privacy. “My idea was to make only a roof, not even a building,” Tanijiri says. The house’s conical shape was simply the structural effect of his decision to extend the roof down 26 feet, but it afforded other benefits. “A square roof will easily collapse, but this triangular principle is much stronger,” says Kenji Nawa, the structural engineer who helped Tanijiri execute the concept. “Using less material, we could even make a stronger structure.” Though the monolithic facade suggests a gloomy interior, the rooms are surprisingly bright. A skylight at the peak funnels sunshine all the way to the ground through large cutouts that also accommodate the stairs, so each floor changes from enclosed and bright at the top to open and softly lit at the bottom.
The clients, who chose a site convenient to Atsushi’s office, are thrilled about their closeness to the outdoors from the privacy of their own home. “From the inside, we have views of the hills, so it feels like I am outside though I am actually in the house,” Yukie Takata says. “It gives the house an extraordinary, liberating feeling.”
Tanijiri’s ability to do so much with limited resources may explain his unrivaled building pace (he has 30 new projects in the works). “He has the heart to make everything and is open to working with anyone,” Nawa says. The architect believes that his adventurous approach comes through in the spirit of his work. “I am a mood maker,” he says. “Making a fun place attracts people. When people notice I enjoy making architecture, it automatically attracts clients.”