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Cubic commune: Ryue Nishizawa challenges conventional attitudes to multiple residence development.

Visiting this project two years after completion is critical to how thoroughly it can be judged. Previously published images of empty white interiors, pristine external surfaces and a scrubby landscape, created a wholly inaccurate representation. Without evidence of occupation and use, Ryue Nishizawa's domestic experiment remained untested, seen inaccurately as an object of pure physical contemplation. Now, however, seen in use, this striking group of six dwellings is a demonstration of how traditional notions of privacy and community can be adjusted.

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When describing the house two years on, Nishizawa instinctively steers the conversation away from issues of form and composition to what he considers to be key issues; how the building operates in society, how it finds its place within the city, and how it allows people to live as they may not yet have realised they are able to. His focus goes beyond an appreciation of architectural minimum--crisp corners, frameless glass links, ingenious internal planning--allowing us to understand this modest scheme as a microcosm of broader observations of the condition of the contemporary Japanese city. The nature of the client was also fundamental to process and outcome, giving Nishizawa the opportunity to create a radical series of co-dependent self-contained dwellings.

As a solitary, reclusive individual, Mr Moriyama sold the bankable asset of his business--the all important licence for his former liquor store--to allow him to use the site in a manner that would make him more happy; namely to live a leisurely life of virtual isolation, listening to music and watching cult movies. Paradoxically through the creation of this home, however, Moriyama has become something of a local celebrity, as the uncrowned chief of a curious commune. Too big for a single dwelling, the sustained use of the site always dictated that Mr Moriyama would need to transform himself from shopkeeper to landlord, and through Nishizawa's sensitive and sophisticated composition, despite the transparency of some spaces, the client is able to sustain his chosen lifestyle in relative peace and quiet.

While unprecedented, the Moriyama House has echoes of primitive forms of dwelling, where functions were distributed as isolated units that collectively create a defensible settlement. It also addresses Nishizawa's key concern regarding how to open up the house as a component of the city. Critical of the fact that many Japanese houses have become too hermetic and opaque, with homes that increasingly turn away from the street to focus on internal courts, Nishizawa's tactic is reminiscent of the layering of ancient Japanese buildings. Instead of simply deploying sliding translucent screens, however, Nishizawa achieves a complex layering through the alignment and misalignment of solid and transparent elements, set within a composition that allows people to properly engage with and enjoy the immediate city context.

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Mr Moriyama currently resides in four of the 10 units, which comprise a four-storey house, containing basement audio suite cum bedroom, garden room, library and sitting room; a conjoined kitchen unit, linked by a glass passage; a freestanding annex; and a bathroom pod. Each function has its own place on the site, and as much as any other space the bathroom is considered to be a room in which to dwell, so through its purposeful isolation, the ritual of taking a bath becomes a far more pronounced event, with thresholds imposing a new procedure.

Around Mr Moriyama's home are four other self-contained houses, and a paired unit with dramatic 4m high bathroom tower with clerestory. While interiors are exquisite and efficiently planned, it is the interstitial spaces between units, and the relationship of these with carefully positioned apertures that make this place so unique. With external courtyards and passageways, interiors have atmosphere and context, and with multiple entrances and no fixed circulation route, residents are free to choreograph their own experience, creating the sort of flexibility previously explored in SANAA's design for the art gallery in Kanazawa.

In this place doors are left unlocked and people meander through the contorted garden, with all residents sharing the central roof terrace where they can sit together on their own (white) village green. If curtains are drawn, privacy is respected and noise levels are sympathetically moderated. Likewise if doors or windows are open, altering the matrix of interstitial space, interaction naturally occurs.

On a very practical level the arrangement of the house also allows Mr Moriyama to reclaim space from tenants as his needs dictate, allowing him to move in phases into new and varied spaces, much more interesting than the prospect of simple knocking through to the flat next door. Extending his own commentary on the morphology of the contemporary Japanese city, Nishizawa has succeeded in creating a unique response for a truly unique client, creating a balance between domestic defensible space and neighbourly permeability.

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Article Details
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Author:Gregory, Rob
Publication:The Architectural Review
Date:Aug 1, 2007
Words:811
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