How to Age Gracefully in Japan

How to Age Gracefully in Japan

By Matthew Keeshin
An architect designs a retreat of pointed huts to serve an elderly community.

Retirement can be rewarding. When a social worker and a cook retreated to the mountains of the Shizuoka Prefecture in Japan, the two women commissioned architect Issei Suma to build a complex of five huts to provide a multitude of services to the community. The live/work space is centered by a large kitchen for a food delivery program and serves as a restaurant utilizing local ingredients. The restaurant is open daily for people to pick up meals or eat. The surrounding units make up the living quarters and a wheelchair-accessible pool.  

Designed for two women in their 60s, this collection of little huts is both a private home and offers a food service to the community. 

The site was flattened by the previous owner and Suma designed the roof of each hut to be a different height to imitate the mountain ridge. 

Detail of the kitchen's curved wall made from concrete and wrapped in Japanese cypress. 

"Their heart and spirit really took the edge off from us. And we actually took the edge off the building," Suma describes the process of working with two altruistic clients. Their efforts inspired him to design "something as unembellished as a primitive hut and holy as a chapel." The result is the interlocking forms clad in Japanese cypress supported by concrete walls and timber rooftops. 

The kitchen features a stainless steel table for preparing food. 

By creating a separate program for each hut, Suma was able to weave together the public and private spaces. "It made us realize that architecture can be the medium that links people to each other, as well as to nature," the architect says.  

Moving past the kitchen, the homeowners and guests can access the spiral pool. The wide hallway accommodates visitors with wheelchairs.   


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