My Favorite Tokyo House

I know I shouldn’t play favorites. But I am often asked which Japanese house I like best. Every time Tower House wins. Hands down. My apologies for the poor photo.

The original “tiny house” makes a star appearance in the introduction to my book, Modern Japanese House. But I first wrote about it in the 1990s when I interviewed its owner-architect and had the chance to go inside. The designer built this home for his family in the 1970s, shortly after the broad street in front was created in the name of improving Tokyo’s infrastructure. Affectionately known as “Killer Dori,” it simply cut through a small scale residential neighborhood. True, this development yielded a needed automobile artery where there was none. But it also scarred the urban fabric and left lots of tiny, triangular plots in its wake.

Also in the name of progress, Leavittown-like suburbs began springing up around the city about the same time. Called “bed towns,” they really were more like “dead towns” — even more so today as the country’s population dwindles. These lifeless developments offered brand new, bigger homes with gardens, just like in the US (not). But they came at the cost of staggering commutes and isolation from the city’s spontaneous vitality.

Understandably, our hero wanted no part of this. On the contrary, he wanted to walk out his front door and go to a cafe, take a walk in the park or visit the local sento (public bath). As a result, he purchased one of said triangular lots and put this amazing, multistory home on it. Made of poured in place concrete, Tower House has one room one on each floor connected by a narrow staircase in lieu of a corridor. Though his office was in the basement, the architect explained to me that he still commuted to work. Every morning he would leave the house and walk around the block before heading back to the drawing board.

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