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Oriental miniature: barely the width of a flowerbed, this urban micro house is compact even by Japanese standards.

Even by Japanese domestic standards, as explored in a recent AR special issue (AR September 2005), this house by Atelier Tekuto is an astonishing triumph over conditions that most clients and architects would reasonably regard as unbuildable. Occupying barely the width of a flowerbed, it is a poetic yet practical response to the exigencies of Tokyo's planning and building laws. The clients, a young married couple, managed to acquire an elongated sliver of land (around 59sqm) sandwiched between an existing low rise block of flats and a vacant plot that will eventually host an as yet unbuilt neighbour. On the street frontage the site is 3.2m wide, but tapers down along its length to just under a metre. Compacting an already restricted footprint, local building regulations also required a 0.5m setback from all site boundaries, Most flowerbeds are more generously proportioned.

With projects such as the Cell Brick House which was premiated in the last but one AR Awards for Emerging Architecture cycle (AR December 2004), Yasuhiro Yamashita (principal of Atelier Tekuto) is acquiring a reputation for inventive, urban micro-dwellings. Here, his response is to exploit and translate the super elongated form of the site into a slim, streamlined structure, like an anorexic tent or an aeroplane wing sliced up and set on its end. As the setback proscription did not apply to subterranean volumes, extra space is created by embedding an entire storey underground. The outcome is a tapering double-height volume of living, dining and kitchen, with a bathroom economically tucked into the narrow end. Sleeping quarters are set aloft on an upper deck under the narrow peak of the roof (like a lancet arch) which gently decreases in height along the length of the site. The tapered end of the house is just wide enough to accommodate a back door leading to a pocket size patch of ground with a single tree that could conceivably qualify as Tokyo's smallest garden. In such a confined setting, lightness is all. Glazing is confined to the street frontage, but light is also admitted through the delicately translucent polycarbonate skin (a modern take on traditional rice paper) that envelops the rest of the house. The upper sleeping floor is fabricated from expanded metal mesh, through which light can percolate, and the interior is predominantly white (white walls, white floors, white stairs, white fittings) to promote the general illusion of spaciousness.

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Clearly such an offbeat domestic environment is not to everyone's taste, yet it shows what can be done in the teeth of physical and bureaucratic restrictions and somehow it works. The potentially claustrophobic narrowness of the interior is mitigated by not only its height, but also by the physical and visual lightness of the polycarbonate skin.

Yamashita is fond of giving his house projects lyrical titles and this one rejoices under the soubriquet 'Lucky Drops', alluding to the Japanese version of keeping the best for last. Hence a leftover site, that might be thought the last place for any sort of development, is ingeniously colonised and transformed into the setting for a modern domestic idyll. C. S.

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Author:Slessor, Catherine
Publication:The Architectural Review
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:Mar 1, 2006
Words:535
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