'House in Hamamatsu' is an exceptional private commission by Japan's Kuboe architects. Located in the city of Hamamatsu, giving the project it's matter of fact name, the design is as serene as the beautiful landscape that characterizes Shizuoka Prefecture. From the street, the low-lying bungalow is all humility, yet the design incorporates a courtyard and a treasure trove of clean-lined design ideas.
Let's take a closer look at the private paradise beyond the walls.
Contemporary Japanese architectural design has embraced raw materials and restraint, an approach totally in tune with traditional Japanese aesthetics. Where detractors might be tempted to label the design as a bunker, those with an eye for beautiful simplicity will recognize the Japanese tendency to elegant minimalism as they pass House in Hamamatsu. On the left is a ridge-roofed garage, the garage door finished in the rich warm wood found elsewhere in the house. This color contrast, signalling its function as a portal between inside and out, communicates with the shuttered window on the right across a Zen-like gravel front yard planted with two carefully positioned trees and a tall beton brut garden wall, punctuated in turn with a row of ventilation holes for sculptural effect.
The main entrance to the house, or rather the entrance way to inner sanctum from which the house radiates, is found tucked to the side of the cast concrete wall set in the middle of the house's street side facade, adjacent to the garage. A single cubic light guides visitors to the intercom, and a slim metal door swings open – not into the house itself, but onto a slender concrete-paved path at the foot of the wall that leads the way past the courtyard, stepping up to a deck and into the warmth of home.
Open spaces such as this minimalist garden are important features of traditional Japanese domestic architecture, a feature eagerly taken up by contemporary homeowners who are privileged enough to have space to play with. Here in Hamamatsu, the architects have replicated the concept of central atrium with a modern touch. A single mature tree planting rises from a closely cropped square of turf, flanked by a wooden deck, the raw concrete of the exterior garden wall, and open-fronted access to the body of the house.
The living room of the House in Hamamatsu is a fabulous, relaxing space. The ceiling boasts slim, exposed structural timbers, a gesture to a more rural set of design aesthetics, brought into the modern period by recessed down lighting. Minimalist furniture – a long couch and a cream-colored divan angled to provide loungers a view out onto the courtyard – are complemented by flat screen TV and floating shelves positioned across the blond pine parquet flooring. From here you can see how the layout of the home radiates from the courtyard – there's barely a room that doesn't communicate with this simple garden space.
This room, opposite the concrete wall protecting the privacy of the garden from the street, is furnished in traditional Japanese style, with tatami mat flooring and sliding doors allowing most of one wall to be pulled back to dramatically extend the living space. Broad glazed sliding doors opening onto the outside are complemented by a second layer of elegant, waffle-patterned wooden sliding doors for shade and ventilation in the hotter months.
Stepping back along the rooms bordering the garden, we find yet another room communicating directly with the sun-drenched garden. This perspective gives us a direct line of sight down the length of the house, showing how a simple, lateral or modular approach to the architectural plan means that no room is buried too deep in the structure of the house – wherever the residents choose to work, play or simply be, there's always light and room to move.
Set directly opposite the living room, again accessed across the grass of the courtyard or via the set of communicating rooms whose sliding glass doors can be seen in the background, this garage is both a workshop and a robust playground for the kids. Recalling a country barn, the garage boasts a loft space can be reached by ladder to provide a huge upper-level storage space for a home that's otherwise rigorously low-lying.
There's more sky and sun yet thanks to the practical logic of this dream bungalow. A second courtyard, smaller and paved entirely in stone, completes the triplet begun with spacious garage and planted primary walled garden. Set on the same level as the floor of the home's interior, this atrium acts as a grace note to the open structure that feeds the house with its serene energy. A wonderful example of Japanese design aesthetics at work in the contemporary domain.