The pure white house
Maria Giulia Zunino
Koji Tsutsui Architect & Associates
This industrial designer house has won a number of recognitions, most notably Italian: at Padua in the recently established award in memory of student Barbara Cappochin – an award that has come to international attention in the space of just a few years – and in Orlando, Florida at the more famous Ceramic Tiles of Italy Design Competition organised by Confindustria Ceramica and assigned during the exhibition Coverings. These awards have brought the Japanese designer Koji Tsutsui to public attention in Europe. At just over 35 years of age he can boast a degree and masters in the UK, six years of experience working in Tokyo for the studio of Tadao Ando (world famous for his pioneering use of concrete as a facing material enlivened by unexpected lighting angles and winner of the Pritzker Prize, in recognition of his extraordinary design skill) and a successful firm based in San Francisco.
This house is located in the Setagaya district of Seijo, one of the residential areas of metropolitan Tokyo that is popular for its peace and quiet and where the new architectural star Kazuyo Sejima recently completed a luxury residential complex.
Peace and quiet was indeed the main requirement of the client, a designer in search of a private location that could be used as both a residence and a professional studio. The plot on which the house is built is deep and narrow (a typical floor has an area of 50 sq.m), a standard feature in Japan due to the country’s limited availability of land and the increase in demand from the steadily expanding property market.
The house’s individuality is emphasised by an understated but clear line separating it from the two neighbouring buildings – a narrow stairway on one side and a low wall on the other – that isolate it and give it identity. This identity is further enhanced by the luminous reflecting steel skin that covers the façade and frames the openings. Freely and dynamically designed, the openings are strictly dependent on the layout of the interior spaces: on the ground floor the vertical opening illuminates the stairway that separates – functionally if not visually – the garage area (for the house owner’s beloved car) from that of the studio; on the first floor the large window of the living room – the centrepiece of the entire project – captures natural light and reflects it onto the rear terrace garden; on the second floor the square window illuminates the bedroom. The functional layout of the building is clearly divided into three levels in accordance with the classic upward progression from public to private spaces. But inside the house this subdivision is almost negated in favour of a quest for ambiguity, enhanced by the vertical line of the freestanding staircase and by the all-white interior that creates a general sense of dynamic fluidity. This fluidity is made possible by the light weight of the metal loadbearing structure and above all by the choice of a ceramic continuum – consisting of “Stile Bianco” tiles from Refin – that creates an almost two-dimensional landscape. It is the very nature of ceramic that allows it to disperse the light towards the lateral spaces (partly suspended) and to bring together different scenarios to create a fabric with myriad different facets. And it is ceramic that enhances the natural appearance of the project as a whole, creating the sensation of a rarefied space that is almost suspended in time and emphasising the qualities of a peaceful haven.