November 1, 2005
Atelier Bow-Wow uses bright colors to squeeze lively spaces out of a small structure.
Tokyo’s densely populated Setagaya ward is a tough charge for architects. With close to a million denizens sharing this 22-square-mile patch abutting the iconic neon core of the capital, extensive zoning regulations keep the skyline in check—and sometimes govern the layout of interiors—meaning there isn’t much room for play. But in a bold new residence local firm Atelier Bow-Wow has navigated the restrictions with eye-popping results.
Juicy House, designed for a couple with numerous creative passions, a sizable library, and a penchant for bright colors, is a compact residence defined not by space-stealing partitions but by areas of activity. “In a small house we don’t insist on the unit of the room,” Bow-Wow’s Yoshiharu Tsukamoto says. “We create a scene of occupancy. One room is occupied by bookshelves, the atelier is occupied by paintings, and another area is occupied by orange.” The transition from a white space dominated by books into a room of unrestrained orange creates such a dynamic contrast that there’s no need to install walls, shoji, or any other formal separation.
Of all the scenes it’s the orange one that grabs your attention—and gives the house its name. The inspiration, Tsukamoto says, came partly from the client’s attire. “The lady of the house is very cheerful and always wears beautiful clothes in vivid colors like orange and pink and blue,” he explains. “They wanted similar colors for the house.” The entrance envelops visitors in an electric pink and the bedrooms surround sleepers in pale yellow, while the living room, dining room, and kitchen (which share a 452-square-foot floor) are a zesty orange. With the walls, floor, ceiling, and fittings of the second floor all in the same startling tone, the dimensions are hard to judge—a clear boon for a home of this scale. It also offers dramatic contrast with the cutaway windows carefully positioned to frame the Setagaya scenery.
One pane reveals the traditional tiling of a neighbor’s roof; another aims skyward for a heavenly splash of color. “In such a densely packed residential area we had to manage the relationship between inside and outside very well,” Tsukamoto says. “The site is so small that it’s really difficult to escape the influence of the surrounding environment.” The most dramatic window graces the top-floor bathroom, which evokes a Japanese hot spring (albeit with a markedly less verdant view). But the positioning is more a product of zoning regulations than of romantic architecture. With the house next to a narrow street, a full third floor would have cast too much shadow, so Bow-Wow scaled it back to cover just half the footprint of the building. Then fire regulations demanded that this floor be designated for “nonliving purposes.” A small bathroom was the only option, but the architects inserted luxury with a large balcony and a superlative view.
To squeeze even more from the plot, Bow-Wow created a basement to hold the bedrooms and a study. It’s a bold decision to separate a bedroom and bathroom by two stories, but it allowed for the sunlit two-tier, partition-free living space in between. Tsukamoto likens his open-plan Juicy House to a private cultural center: “There’s a library, a gallery, and an office; the kitchen is the café; and it’s easy to flow from one area to another.” The feedback from the occupants has been overwhelmingly positive, Tsukamoto reports, but they still describe the second floor as “very, very orange” and are busy collecting white furniture and other artifacts to counter the juicy hue.