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Hidden treasure: this family house in Osaka explores a language of exquisite minimalism.

Kulapat Yantrasast grew up in Thailand, spent 14 years in Japan (seven of those with Tadao Ando in Osaka) and now has his own practice in LA. He was still working in Ando's office when an art dealer friend introduced him to a local landowner who wanted an architect to design a house for his son's family. It was Yantrasast's first commission, a project to be designed after hours, and a springboard to independence--though he has maintained his close connection to Ando on that firm's American projects. It is also a transitional work that employs the austere materiality, rigorous geometry and controlled progression of the master, but in a looser, more relaxed way.

The site, on the southern edge of Osaka, was chosen for its proximity to the parents' home, and for the surrounding green space, though this is likely to be built over, as major cities continue to expand despite the overall shrinkage of Japan's aging population. There's a three-metre drop from a wide berm at street level to the rice paddy it once enclosed, and Yantrasast exploited this to create a split-level section at the point where the grade shifts. A 300sqm concrete structure in a nascent suburb of small conventional houses was bound to stand out and that persuaded the architect to conceal it behind a blank wall. 'It's a way of hiding wealth rather than flaunting it, just as, in the Edo era, rich merchants wore black kimonos with gold and colours within the sleeves,' says the architect.

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The owner works extended hours as a dentist and wanted a private retreat as well as spaces he could share with his wife and their two young daughters. Yantrasast developed a cross-axial plan in which every member of the family could enjoy a room that opened on to a walled garden or courtyard. 'I looked at Chinese hutongs and Mies's plans for courtyard villas and realised that this house, though it's isolated now, will eventually be surrounded by neighbours,' says the architect. That suggested an inward-looking plan. The main axis extends back from the entrance in the manner of an engawa, the traditional spine-promenade of Japanese architecture, stepping down to form a lofty hall lit from tall, steel-framed windows. It links a tatami room for guests to the living area, with the parents' bedroom off to the left. Steps lead up to the cross axis comprising the daughters' bedroom and play space above the master bedroom, and, to the right, the father's glass-walled sanctuary, which is separated from the rest of the house by a covered terrace. Architect Akira Matsumoto supervised construction when Yantrasast left for the US.

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The clarity of the plan is enriched by the shifts of level and direction, and by the refinement of the finishes and detailing. Natural light washes over the form--poured concrete imparting a sheen that softens the unyielding surfaces. Floors of Cambodian red pine are enlivened by a variation in the width of the boards. Skinny roller blinds shade each of the tall windows. 'Ando is Japanese and uses material like a sculptor, with nothing to disturb the tension. I'm from Thailand and a different generation and I believe in using different materials and flavours to enrich the interiors. It's the difference between tofu and aromatic noodles', says Yantrasast.

That's his goal, and he's advancing towards it in the Grand Rapids Art Museum, galleries at the Chicago Art Institute, and other projects. In contrast, the Wakasa house appears austere. It's hard to escape the shadow of an exacting master architect, and the owner is a minimalist, who prefers spare furnishings and few art works. Yet these images, like so many architectural photos, give a misleading impression. This is no monastery. The purity of line and proportion, and the unadorned surfaces frame the daily life and warm hospitality of an exuberant, multi-generational family.

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Copyright 2007, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Webb, Michael
Publication:The Architectural Review
Date:May 1, 2007
Words:661
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