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5 Cool and Surprising Japanese Houses

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Thanks to a fleet of wildly creative architects producing out-of-the-box houses for brave, non-conformist clients, Japan's architecture scene is one of the most exciting in the world. Here are five of the coolest and most surprising Japanese houses we've spotted recently.
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  The black facade of the Yatabes’ house may turn a darkly futuristic face to its suburban block, but behind it the house is full of light. In Saitama, a tightly packed neighborhood near Tokyo, the black metal screen affords the family privacy without sacrificing outdoor space. Photo by Dean Kaufman.

    The black facade of the Yatabes’ house may turn a darkly futuristic face to its suburban block, but behind it the house is full of light. In Saitama, a tightly packed neighborhood near Tokyo, the black metal screen affords the family privacy without sacrificing outdoor space. Photo by Dean Kaufman.

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  When Hideyuki Nakayama first sits down to dream up a design, he takes a pencil to paper and starts sketching. With a single line, a blank sheet of paper becomes a spacious floor. He adds another line, erases a dash here and there and the space transforms in the blink of an eye. For "2004," a private residence amid a new residential development in Matsumoto, Japan, Nakayama started off with sketches of a girl sleeping on a blanket with a floor hovering above her. What began as an exercise in exploring spatial relationships through rudimentary sketches spiraled into a home that breaks with convention.

    When Hideyuki Nakayama first sits down to dream up a design, he takes a pencil to paper and starts sketching. With a single line, a blank sheet of paper becomes a spacious floor. He adds another line, erases a dash here and there and the space transforms in the blink of an eye. For "2004," a private residence amid a new residential development in Matsumoto, Japan, Nakayama started off with sketches of a girl sleeping on a blanket with a floor hovering above her. What began as an exercise in exploring spatial relationships through rudimentary sketches spiraled into a home that breaks with convention.

  • 
  “In architecture we tend to measure everything using a certain scale,” 36-year-old Makoto Tanijiri says about the standard dimensions and relative proportions of architectural elements. “People experience a space to be much bigger if they cannot figure out the exact size of it.” Tanijiri, of Suppose Design Office, put this theory into test in House in Fukawa, a house for four located in the suburbs of Hiroshima. A central staircase stands like a thick tree trunk at the heart of the residence. Three bedrooms clad with coniferous plywood are suspended from this core, each at a different height and turned at different angles. The residents can use the spaces between, above, and below the closed boxes in any number of ways; the uppermost reaches are akin to a rooftop terrace, the closed spaces bedrooms.

    “In architecture we tend to measure everything using a certain scale,” 36-year-old Makoto Tanijiri says about the standard dimensions and relative proportions of architectural elements. “People experience a space to be much bigger if they cannot figure out the exact size of it.” Tanijiri, of Suppose Design Office, put this theory into test in House in Fukawa, a house for four located in the suburbs of Hiroshima. A central staircase stands like a thick tree trunk at the heart of the residence. Three bedrooms clad with coniferous plywood are suspended from this core, each at a different height and turned at different angles. The residents can use the spaces between, above, and below the closed boxes in any number of ways; the uppermost reaches are akin to a rooftop terrace, the closed spaces bedrooms.

  • 
  On a double suburban lot in Tokyo, the Office of Ryue Nishizawa built a neighborhood-scaled, flexible-format minimalist steel prefab compound for Yasuo Moriyama—a very private individual with a powerful social bent—and six rental tenants. Every room is its own building—even Moriyama's bath is a freestanding box. Here, tradition and innovation interweave to create a new kind of community. None of the ten units is purely communal, but detached Unit C, Yasuo Moriyama’s “living room,” functions the most publicly. It houses a DVD player, a plasma screen TV, and little else, but it has a tea-room ambience. Moriyama says, “This space gives you the freedom to do anything you like, and it makes you want to.” Here, Moriyama and his pomeranian Shinnosuke visit with Ippei Takahashi, project manager and fellow resident. Photo by Dean Kaufman.

    On a double suburban lot in Tokyo, the Office of Ryue Nishizawa built a neighborhood-scaled, flexible-format minimalist steel prefab compound for Yasuo Moriyama—a very private individual with a powerful social bent—and six rental tenants. Every room is its own building—even Moriyama's bath is a freestanding box. Here, tradition and innovation interweave to create a new kind of community. None of the ten units is purely communal, but detached Unit C, Yasuo Moriyama’s “living room,” functions the most publicly. It houses a DVD player, a plasma screen TV, and little else, but it has a tea-room ambience. Moriyama says, “This space gives you the freedom to do anything you like, and it makes you want to.” Here, Moriyama and his pomeranian Shinnosuke visit with Ippei Takahashi, project manager and fellow resident. Photo by Dean Kaufman.

  • 
  This flower shop, art gallery, and home for two looks like the simplest of cubes. Fitting it all into 1,115 square feet, however, prompted Japanese architect Makoto Tanijiri to think outside the box. Yurika Ninomiya says good morning to busy central Nagoya from her third-floor bedroom while husband Takuya opens up the shop and gallery that they run below. Photo by Takashi Homma.

    This flower shop, art gallery, and home for two looks like the simplest of cubes. Fitting it all into 1,115 square feet, however, prompted Japanese architect Makoto Tanijiri to think outside the box. Yurika Ninomiya says good morning to busy central Nagoya from her third-floor bedroom while husband Takuya opens up the shop and gallery that they run below. Photo by Takashi Homma.

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