In Shinjiko-ku, Tokyo is a successful work/live solution on an unusually shaped site, surrounded by buildings and connected to the road by just a narrow strip of land. Although a challenge to plan and construct in such a confined space, it provided an opportunity for Tokyo architects Bow Wow to use their experience in changing challenging conditions into positive characteristics.
Aiming not to separate the house and the atelier portion, the architects found a solution with 2 lower floors for the atelier space and 2 upper floors for the living areas connected by a staircase - the landing of which can be used as split-level accommodation itself.
This building is a solution to the problem of the owners and architects Yoshiharu Tsukamoto, and his partner Momoyo Kaijima, of combining office space and a permanent residence. They were looking for a new site for their Tokyo-based architectural company Atelier Bow Wow. Their design typically shuns a particular style, embracing a kind of accidental urban vernacular, using their research/work to chronicle the complex - and often unforgiving - logic of the city. They specialise in creating design solutions to the problems of downtown Tokyo - this kind of 'micro house' is a characteristic response.
The plot had a number of difficulties associated with it. It is an unusual 'flag' shaped site surrounded by buildings and only connected to the road by a narrow strip of land. This made it hard to plan and construct but with the advantage that the plot itself was cheaper than a street fronted site. The design posed the perfect challenge for the architects, giving them a chance to utilise their past experiences of having changed challenging conditions into positive characteristics in housing design. Aiming not to separate the house and the atelier portion, a combination of fluid areas has been created. The two lower floors are dedicated for the atelier and the upper two floors are given over for the house. The areas of the stair landings vary from 3 to 10 sqm, and the style of the stairs also varies to give each space a different degree of privacy. To fit the plot, the exterior wall was required to be set at an incline due to building regulations; the interior columns of the first and the third floor also incline.
The unexpected forms of the space have inspired imaginative responses to use. Two wells were dug in order to use the water for radiant cooling and heating. The well water pumped up to the roof streams down on the surface of the external wall, cooling the wall by vaporisation in the summer. The external wall is covered with granule-faced asphalt to hold the water. The building has been likened to a massive rock sweating, with a dragon like internal water vein, which can be glimpsed between the houses.
This building seems to embody the mantra of the company that champions site and use-specific design. Bow-wow posits a practice engaged in what they call "lively space" and this is clearly visible within the design. This is a kind of space that is willingly infected with the accidents of site and programme rather than trying to control or sterilise them. Architecture is about imagination and in this case something superbly creative has been formed literally out of nothing. In other parts of the world it may not even have even considered a viable site. It illustrates a difference between Japanese and a western European perception of what constitutes private space and what constitutes communal. In Tokyo warrens of tiny little streets and tiny little buildings are pressed to each other creating a sense of urban density and an almost a village like atmosphere right in the heart of the city.
ARCHITECT: ATELIER BOW WOW