A Garden Hill Reflects Light Into This Modern Tokyo Home

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By Lucy Wang
On a corner lot in Tokyo, a contemporary refuge takes cues from traditional Japanese arts and garden design.

When a client asked Tokyo-based firm Hiroshi Nakamura & NAP to design a home that would embrace the changing seasons, Nakamura and project architect Kohei Omori found inspiration in Japan’s traditional art forms, starting with Japanese landscape design.

"Our aim was to create a house with the experience of strolling around a garden," the architect explains. The U-shaped home encloses a 2,420-square-foot courtyard with a large man-made hill—an element borrowed from traditional ‘tsukiyama’ gardens—that reflects light into the house.

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The site slopes east to west. The open-plan living areas (seen directly ahead) are located on the west side and the highest point of the site for expansive garden views.

The site slopes east to west. The open-plan living areas (seen directly ahead) are located on the west side and the highest point of the site for expansive garden views.

"An artificial hill was placed in the inner garden so that all rooms have light. Like Ginkakuji (the Silver Pavilion) in Kyoto, where a sand cone moon-viewing platform in a sea of silver sand distributes moonlight to the different buildings, the hill reflects the transition of light and flow of time to each of the rooms."

Full-height sliding doors blur the boundary between the interior and the garden outside.

Full-height sliding doors blur the boundary between the interior and the garden outside.

To maximize views of the inner garden and access to reflected light, the architects installed full-height operable glazing in each of the rooms oriented towards the courtyard. The grid-screen, which was inspired by the traditional bamboo lath structures, provides privacy, security, as well as a green facade where vines will grow as time passes.

The home is concealed behind horizontal bands of materials including Aji stone quarried from Shikoku, a powder-coated aluminum screen (lath), the white plaster exterior of the second floor, and a titanium zinc alloy roof.

The home is concealed behind horizontal bands of materials including Aji stone quarried from Shikoku, a powder-coated aluminum screen (lath), the white plaster exterior of the second floor, and a titanium zinc alloy roof.

A ramp beneath the lath screen leads to a two-car garage hidden under the inner courtyard's grassy knoll.

A ramp beneath the lath screen leads to a two-car garage hidden under the inner courtyard's grassy knoll.

Garden views are further emphasized by a spiral pathway around the courtyard that references traditional Japanese stroll gardens and michiyuki—a term for journey scenes used in Japanese Noh theater.

Stone steps lead up from the gated front door to the entrance on the south side of the house.

Stone steps lead up from the gated front door to the entrance on the south side of the house.

The lath screen offers a glimpse of the grassy hill from the entryway.

The lath screen offers a glimpse of the grassy hill from the entryway.

The architect continues: "When going out, you turn left again and again around the hill as the revolute centrifugal force gives you a supportive push. When coming home from the station, the path starts from the road on the north side and you turn right again and again around the hill as if withdrawing deeply into a spiral shell."

"Although the LDK (living room, dining room, kitchen) faces east, it is bathed in light reflected off the hill in the afternoon," says the architect. "With the absence of beams and sealing strips, the rafter seems to protrude from the white structural wall, making the LDK seem like a semi-outdoor veranda. The living room has become part of the garden, where you can naturally engage with the children playing or sprawling on the slope of the hill."

"Although the LDK (living room, dining room, kitchen) faces east, it is bathed in light reflected off the hill in the afternoon," says the architect. "With the absence of beams and sealing strips, the rafter seems to protrude from the white structural wall, making the LDK seem like a semi-outdoor veranda. The living room has become part of the garden, where you can naturally engage with the children playing or sprawling on the slope of the hill."

Teak is used extensively throughout the home—from the flooring to the kitchen cabinetry. The dining chairs and table are by George Nakashima.

Teak is used extensively throughout the home—from the flooring to the kitchen cabinetry. The dining chairs and table are by George Nakashima.

"The house thus empowers you as you go out, yet soothes you as you come home. Enticed by the coziness of this home, inhabitants share distinct behaviors and weave a tapestry of empathy that strengthens the bonds of family. The lifestyle in this home swirls around the garden with an artificial hill."

The white plaster inside the home signals a continuation of the outdoor facade. The cave-like nook was inspired by the fireplace in Swedish architect Erik Gunnar Asplund's summer house.

The white plaster inside the home signals a continuation of the outdoor facade. The cave-like nook was inspired by the fireplace in Swedish architect Erik Gunnar Asplund's summer house.

The view from the cave-like nook towards the courtyard.

The view from the cave-like nook towards the courtyard.

A traditional tatami room with shoji sliding doors is located next to the open-plan living space.

A traditional tatami room with shoji sliding doors is located next to the open-plan living space.

The guest bedroom, located on the south side of the site, overlooks a Japanese pine tree.

The guest bedroom, located on the south side of the site, overlooks a Japanese pine tree.

The minimalist bathrooms feature Silestone quartz countertops and tiled floors.

The minimalist bathrooms feature Silestone quartz countertops and tiled floors.

The Lath House consists of four bedrooms, three of which are located upstairs. The ceilings are made of natural reed.

The Lath House consists of four bedrooms, three of which are located upstairs. The ceilings are made of natural reed.

A covered outdoor walkway connects the three upstairs bedrooms and overlooks views of the courtyard.

A covered outdoor walkway connects the three upstairs bedrooms and overlooks views of the courtyard.

Lath House ground floor plan

Lath House ground floor plan

Lath House upper floor plan

Lath House upper floor plan

Lath House section

Lath House section

Project Credits:

Architect of Record: Hiroshi Nakamura & NAP/@hiroshi_nakamura_naparchitects

Builder/General Contractor: Satohide Corporation

Structural Engineer: Yamada Noriaki Structural Design Office Co., Ltd.

Landscape Design: SOLSO FARM

Lighting Design: DaikoMaxray

Interior Design: Hiroshi Nakamura & NAP 

Cabinetry Design/Installation: Sakura Shop

Lath Facade: Asahi Building-Wall Co., Ltd.

Masonry: Izumi Stone Works