Video: Prefab Japanese Joinery

In our September 2011 Japan Style issue (now on newsstands!) we showcase a plethora of Japanese-influenced houses as well as feature the incredible craft of Japanese joinery. Here, in a video produced by Tokyo-based design firm Bakoko, we take another look at the traditional carpentry technique and see it automated and applied to modern home building.

In 2009, Kayoko Ohtsuki and Alastair Townsend, graduates of London's Architectural Association, founded Bakoko in Tokyo, Japan. The firm's portfolio includes hotels, restaurants, and cafes as well as theoretical proposals for rain shelters, temporary exhibition spaces, and even ten-foot-tall compost bins shaped like igloos. Bakoko's work also comprises a number of residences, including its current endeavor, the Onjuku Beach House in a seaside town 90 minutes by train south of Tokyo.

The original blueprints are redrawn with special symbols that denote which joint to use at each post and beam intersection.

To construct the home, Ohtsuki and Townsend worked with a precut (read: prefab) timber factory less than 20 miles from the construction site. The company, which employs five workers, cuts timber for up to 1,000 homes a year with the goal of saving on-site construction time, improving precision, and decreasing waste. For the Onjuku Beach House, Ohtsuki and Townsend sent their blueprints to the company, where its employees rendered them into schematic drawings with symbols denoting the type of joint at each post and beam intersection. Using specialized software and machinery, the factory workers cut each piece and delivered them to the construction site.

The factory is filled with specialized machinery that cuts each piece of timber with specific joints at specific places in each post and beam. Software developed for the equipment makes sure each piece is cut to the correct length and finished with the correct ends.

Once the pieces were delivered, it took on-site construction workers but one day to erect the timber frame, using large wooden mallets to join each post and beam. "It was akin to piecing together a large wooden puzzle," Townsend says in the video.

The construction crew erected the Onjuku House frame in just one day, using wooden mallets to coax each piece into position.

Ohtsuki and Townsed toured the precut timber factory and produced this short documentary highlighting the process. It's a fascinating look at a traditional technique meshed with modern technology to increase efficiency but stay true to the original trade. Enjoy!

Ohtsuki and Townsend's timber arrives at the site precut with traditional Japanese joinery ends and labeled as to where each piece fits in the puzzle.


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