This Japanese house was entirely built without a single nail

Japanese architect Takasaki Masaharu is well-known for his ingenious buildings. Since his career took off in the 1980s, his work has defied commonly accepted structural logic, and instead introduced an imaginative architecture that expresses his knowledge of Asian mythology, anthropology and religion. An example of this is Tenchi House in Nagoya, which was his first house constructed entirely out of timber. His most recent house ‘Shinon-no-ie’ (meaning house of heartbeat in Japanese) further explores this route.

Designed for a member of a pop music group and his family, the house took over five years to complete and more than ever embodies Takasaki’s architectural philosophy. As the name suggests, the house unites the family members and, according to the designer, forms a ‘heart shelter.’

The stairs lead straight from the entrance hall on the ground floor to the first floor, reminiscent of the archaic, dramatic structure of the Izumo Grand Shrine (Izumo Taisha), one of the most important Shinto shrines in Japan. The house’s arches, round columns and eight large totemic pillars, as well as its unique sculptures placed everywhere, create a religious, mythological atmosphere, although no specific religion is intended.

As many viewers as there are, that’s how many interpretations of the visible elements of the house there will be – this is what Takasaki believes based on his view of the world. The house is located on a corner plot and faces the street. Under part of the house is a water feature containing fish. Inside, the main room on the ground floor is designed to reflect the sparkling water that, as Takasaki admits, is particularly beautiful in the late afternoon light.

Directly behind the entrance door, the grand staircase is bisected by a colonnade that runs through it diagonally. The designer wants to encourage the residents to be space conscious and to give them ‘a positive energy flow.’ The ground floor is used mainly as a living room, the first floor contains the personal rooms of the family members. In order to facilitate flexible comings and goings, the rooms are not fully partitioned.

There’s a fireplace for a Japanese tea ceremony that, according to Takasaki, ‘allows the family to soak up the atmosphere of the mountains in the comfort of the town.’ The double-height living room features wooden panels painted in red, white and yellow that look like blood vessels or nerve bundles. Those colours are associated with temple and shrine architecture.

The spaces on the ground and first floors are defined by columns in units of four and half tatami mats (4.5 Jou), one of the traditional Japanese residential units. The Jou unit has been used in Japan since the Middle Ages. Four and half tatami mats make a square of about 7.5-sq-m. In Japan, this is the minimum size of a small, practical room. Depth is emphasized by the use of layered walls and separations throughout the house. From the inside, the house seems larger than it actually is.

It should be a healthy house that employs the traditional nail-free construction method of Japan, where no artificial material is used

Takasaki: ‘The three rooms on the ground floor are designed as a space where souls resonate together, the living room as a space where wind blows from the sky, the private rooms on the first floor as a room of the heart, a room of sound, and a room of separation, and the rooftop room as a space of cosmic music.’ His intention was, as he explained, to build ‘a house with nature-friendly architecture to support the mental activities of the residents. It should be a healthy house that employs the traditional nail-free construction method of Japan, where no artificial material is used and natural materials and the environment are utilized.’

In fact, the colonnaded, earthen-walled Shinkabe-zukuri style shows the history and tradition of wooden architecture. It employs Gettoushi paper, an easy-to-maintain, Okinawa-made Japanese paper, wool as thermal insulation, and charcoal on the floor for air purification and humidity regulation. It is also typical of Takasaki to use shirasu, volcanic ash from southern Kyushu. Takasaki used it to finish the interior and exterior of the building. The house has 13 hand-crafted columns standing along the perimeter of the floor plan.

Takasaki personally gave the builders a demonstration of the work process for the columns, showing tricks and traps. Most of the lumber used for the interior was applied with gofun (chalk), which was processed according to the instructions given by Takasaki. ‘In the past,’ he said, ‘the Japanese used to be nurtured by a tightly-bound community and lived in harmony with the rich natural environment.’

However, this particular house is located on a site near a busy elevated railway, on a busy corner plot in a residential district. Takasaki treated the urban landscape as nature and made it visible through large windows, together with the natural environment comprised of clouds, the sun, the moon, and the stars in the infinite sky. The house thus ties macrocosm and microcosm together.

This piece was originally featured on Mark 71. You can purchase a copy here.

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