Daisuke Tokuyama told Japanese architect Makoto Tanijiri that he wanted a light-filled home for his family of five—a tall order, considering his narrow property in Hiroshima was boxed in on three sides. To creatively solve the problem, Tanijiri skipped conventional walls altogether and wrapped the entire three-story steel structure in polycarbonate plastic. "We were able to mix categories that are usually separate," says Tanijiri. "Walls became windows and windows became walls." Thanks to its translucent envelope, the house glows firefly-fashion at night and is so "super bright" during the day that Tokuyama says he rarely turns on a light.
The milky-white, one-and-a-half-inch-thick plastic sheets provide other benefits, too. Tanijiri says they’re strong, easy to handle, and as effective at trapping warmth as double-paned glass. When temperatures rise in the summer, Tokuyama hangs reed shades to keep the upper stories from overheating. Residents can’t be seen from outside unless they stand directly against the walls. From inside, the less-than-scenic urban surroundings become a pleasantly blurry backdrop.
Winifred Bird is a freelance journalist whose work focuses on nature and environmental issues. She has written for the Japan Times, Ode magazine, Mother Earth News, and Yale Environment 360, among other publications. For the past five years Winifred has lived in Japan, where she has learned to appreciate minimalism. When she's not writing, she enjoys gardening, cooking, and checking out old Japanese temples and shrines.