This Simple Japanese House Is Modern and Economical

It's a different way of thinking about sustainable design.

Living room with two pillars and a large top light
Living room with two pillars and a large top light.

Masashige Akeda

Japanese homes have been described as “unusual” and even as “weird" by Westerners. That’s because, in some ways, they are similar to cars—they lose value as they age. Because of this, Architizer explains, architects and homeowners get inventive: “This startling fact essentially renders the future of these residences literally disposable, making homeowners more willing to take risks in design.”

There is also an older, more traditional explanation, from author and architect Naomi Pollock, published by Phaedon, who notes "the habit of demolishing and replacing homes finds precedence in an earlier practice of replacing individual parts of a building."

“When one part wore out you simply popped it out and put in a new one,” explains Pollock. “Just as in the same way that, if the Shoji screen paper breaks you simply have it re-papered. Older houses were held up with huge wooden frames that were lashed together and they can be taken apart like tinker toys and rebuilt any place.”

House Exterior
North elevation with wooden frame and roof windows.

 Masashige Akeda

This is why a new House in Minohshinmachi, outside of Osaka, by Yasuyuki Kitamura is so intriguing. It's not particularly weird, and it is as simple and as minimal as you could get. It's described in V2com:

"The House is a one-story building with a simple, loosely gabled roof, and the volume is kept low so that it is loosely continuous with the surrounding landscape. Additionally, with a very limited construction budget, the structure was built using conventional wooden construction methods, with all pillars measuring 4 inches (105mm) square, and all of them constructed using ordinary structural metals."
Solar section through house
Solar section through house.

Yasuyuki Kitamura

It is designed with those principles that used to be hallmarks of sustainable design, with cross-ventilation and properly sized eaves that keep out the summer sun.

Calm atmosphere in the living room
Calm atmosphere in the living room.

Masashige Akeda

Really, there is not much to it at all, just posts, beams, and plywood.

"While seemingly light and ethereal, the house is highly earthquake-resistant, thanks to the traditional wooden construction method employed in its making. A new expression in a remarkable setting, the project shows that greatness can be achieved with modest means."
House plan

Yasuyuki Kitamura

The plan couldn't be simpler, either; it's not big at 872 square feet, with two bedrooms on one side, an open space in the middle for living, dining, and kitchen, with two columns defining the spaces; Then on the other side, a proper Japanese bathroom with a separated toilet, a wet bathroom (ofuro) and a drier changing area with a sink and washing machine. There is also a large walk-in closet.

Sunlight diffuses into the living room during the daytime
Sunlight diffuses into the living room during the daytime.

Masashige Akeda

The architect describes the project:

"We have been searching for the future of environmental architecture, and our goal was to reconstruct the forgotten relationship between local character and the surrounding natural environment. The result is a new type of building that, in addition to its high residential performance, feels more like a part of nature than a landscape."
Pendant lights created by aluminum spinning gently illuminate a room in the evening
Pendant lights created by aluminum spinning gently illuminate a room in the evening.

Masashige Akeda

Like many Japanese houses, there is probably not much insulation, and no central heating or cooling; you pull out a kerosene heater when you need it or open the windows. It's a different way of thinking about sustainable design, where you do as little as possible. It's really more like camping than occupying. And after years of complaining about weird Japanese houses, it's a pleasure to look at such a simple and elegant solution.

Deep eaves and light roof at night
Deep eaves and light roof at night.

Masashige Akeda