Space-saving symbiosis: Single-family residence near Osaka
Text: Florian Köhler
Special situations require special measures: in Itami, near Osaka, Japan, Yo Shimada and his colleagues from Tato Architects were asked to erect a complete single-family residence in a vacant plot measuring a mere 60 square metres in size. The brief was not made easier by the fact that the Japanese building authorities called for a minimum distance of 50 cm between the outer walls of the house and the perimeter of the property.
Architects: Yo Shimada / Tato Architects, 650-0002 Hyogo, Japan
Location: Itami / Osaka, Japan
Instead of filling out all the available space, the architects set the building back an additional 40 cm from the northeast perimeter, thus placing it 90 cm away from the edge of the property and 140 cm from the neighbouring house. The resulting gap has enabled creation of a narrow path on the long side of the house, where a space-saving sliding entrance door has been set at an angle in the middle of the wall so that it faces the path to the street.
Widening this space on the northeast side made it possible to incorporate projecting bays on the upper storeys, whereby space-consuming elements such as the toilet and cupboards have been fitted against the non-structural walls, making the impression of flat furniture items when seen from the interior.
Increasing the distance of the house from the edge of the plot and slanting the roof to the north enabled a maximum building height of nine metres. The heights of the rooms in the various parts of the building vary from a generous 3.78 metres in the dining room to a modest 1.85 metres in the bedroom. Although the latter might strike Europeans as rather low, according to the architect you can apparently move between the levels of the house quite comfortably.
Due to the location of the property at the end of a cul-de-sac, delivering building materials was not an easy matter. A decision was taken in favour of a skeleton structure in materials weighing as little as possible. H steel sections braced with round bars act as columns and beams, while deck plates only a few millimetres thick provide reinforcement, thus reducing the quantity of steel materials. The total construction costs were similar to those of a wooden house.
Architecture, furniture, stairs
Architectural elements, such as stairs, a laundry space, hand rails and cupboards, are treated by Yo Shimada as if they were furniture and together form a harmonious symbiosis. At the same time the architect managed to make the furniture items seem as if placed at random.
Yo Shimada thinks that the way stairs are dealt with is important in houses, especially in small ones. For him, staircases are more than just room-connecting elements. He does not seek to hide them but instead uses them as a design element that can help create a rich spatial experience.
Choreography of the stairs
Once you enter the house through the sliding door, you enter a section of staircase incorporated into a furniture item, and emerge under the dining room table on the first floor. Here you find yourself looking onto a large white wall brightly lit by sunshine streaming in through the southern window. As you turn left, you see a further wall softly lit from an overhead window to the north. You then step on a low stool to reach the raised living area. To get to the second floor, you step onto a wooden extension of the sofa and onto a few treads consisting of the drawers of a dresser, and from there onto a slender white staircase.
With every upward step the light conditions change with the changes in direction and the size of the space. In this small narrow house, the stairs act as choreography for spatial experience.
Site area: 59.16 m²
Building area: 34.95 m²
Usable space: 95.79 m²
Period of planning: June 2010 - October 2011
Period of construciton: May - September 2012