Inside a striking 3,572 sq ft home in Tokyo built across 5 connecting blocks
The modern, minimalist design of this Japanese home is conceived specifically to meet the needs of every member of this family.
This concrete house in a residential district in Tokyo stands out for its sombre appearance – grey, minimalistic facade with no windows. But appearances can be deceiving. After stepping in through the partially concealed wooden front door and walking further into the complex, the first of a series of small but carefully manicured gardens offers a warm welcome.
“At first, when I stepped in here, the inner garden could not really be seen. But when I went in further, the bright space of the garden appeared and I was impressed,” said homeowner Kiriko Onishi. “I thought that it would be good enough to have one big garden so I was surprised when the architect showed me the design where there are gardens throughout the house.”
In fact, the contrast between the stark exterior and the lush greens is what makes this vignette all the more delightful – and it is this exact impression that architect Hideki Ishii hoped to achieve.
“I think you can only recognise light where there is shadow, and by connecting such light and shadow, I can create various scenes and spaces,” said Ishii.
Onishi and her husband had approached Ishii – known for his experimental yet minimalist aesthetic – to build their dream home, where they could live together with her mother, without compromising on each family member’s privacy.
“I like Mr Ishii’s architectural work,” said Onishi. “My husband also likes buildings with a profound feeling.”
The residence consists of five connecting blocks and has a built-up area of 3,572 sq ft designed around a slightly sloping terrain. “When I looked at this land, instead of building a whole block, I leveraged on the 50 per cent building-to-land ratio and zoomed in on how to use the empty 50 per cent,” said Ishii. “So I thought of placing the blocks along the way to make use of the empty space. The empty space is also not just in one block but spread out so that many different scenes can be built,” he said.
For instance, the entrance is designed to resemble a picture frame. “From here, the space is actually connected as one. By putting this wall here, creating a shadow, the two spaces are separated by the contrast of brightness and darkness,” he explained.
To fully execute his vision for the home, the architect was given a free hand in designing the interior decor of the property as well. Materials such as wood, stone and concrete were used to enhance the interaction between the light and space, while also providing the perfect “frame” for the various mini gardens peppered throughout the house. “I wanted materials that can hold the light properly and can stay alive after the years pass,” said Ishii.
The interconnecting blocks also provide the family with sufficient personal space. Onishi’s mother, Reiko Saito, has her own living quarters, which is accessible from the front of the house via a separate entrance from the main door. “I asked for a space where both generations could have our privacy. My friends can come directly into my living space from the stairs, without going through the main entrance,” said Saito.
There is even a secret subterranean room in Saito’s apartment for her guests. “I have two older sisters and I hope that they will eventually come and visit so I requested for a hidden room to surprise them,” she shared. The main home also features various cleverly designed features to encourage family interaction without compromising on everyone’s personal space. The four young children currently share one large bedroom that can eventually be partitioned into four separate rooms when they grow older. At the same time, there are plenty of stunning common spaces such as the expansive dining room as well as the series of inner gardens where the family regularly enjoys barbecues outdoors.
“He designed it so that instead of just personal space, we can all spend time freely in various spaces,” observed Onishi. “I really think the building and the gardens are beautiful. I feel great in this house no matter what I do. The space planning and design is highly accomplished and sophisticated and that is what really appeals to me.”
That is what Ishii had hoped to achieve in creating this avant-garde house with the family as its beating heart. “The design is more about creating connections – how people spend time in the space and how they move around in it.”
Consisting of five connecting blocks with a built-up area of 3,572 sq ft, this residence is designed around a slightly sloping terrain. Beyond the concealed wooden front door lies a minimalist home where different living areas are demarcated by light and shadow, with a series of small but carefully manicured gardens peppered throughout the property.