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Furniture House

Location: Yamanaka, Japan Year of construction: 1998 Architect: Shigeru Ban Photography: Hiroyuki Hirai

The minimalist approach of this project was a way of ensuring the minimum possible disturbance to the natural environment while establishing the most appropriate language for dialogue with the landscape. The 1,180 sq ft (I 10 m2) house stands in the Yamanaka mountains in Japan. An independent, autonomous structure, it contrasts with the rich vegetation of its surroundings. Japanese architect Shigeru Ban wanted the house to be an expression of extreme Oriental simplicity and developed the structure from the divisions and storage area of the project.

The construction system of Furniture House uses prefabricated units that are the height of the building and work both structurally and as elements that define space. Unlike the carpentry work that would have been available on site, these units are produced under conditions of total mechanization and control, producing better results in terms of quality. The units function as furniture and as structural elements, making it possible to reduce the materials and labor needed as well as onsite construction time. These advantages are reflected in considerable savings in project cost. The units used in Furniture House are 8 ft (2.4 m) high and 3 ft (90 cm) wide. The depth, which is determined by their use and location in the building, varies between 18 in. (45 cm) in the case of bookshelves and 28 in. (70 cm) for other storage and shelving requirements. Arranged in accordance with the structure and composition of the rooms, they produce vertical and horizontal tensions.

The construction system not only gives the required degree of refinement, but, in keeping with this concept, its effect on the natural environment is minimal — including the way in which the house is constructed.

The building recalls the 17th-century work of Kamo no Chomei, whose buildings were created in sections and could be completely dismantled. Through this experimental approach, Ban is reinterpreting the classical tradition of Japanese architecture in a modern way.

The elegance of the plan, which recalls the earliest houses of Mies van der Rohe, stems from a highly intelligent distribution of space that eschews any clear differentiation of the functional elements of the house. The boundaries between traffic and living areas and between interior and exterior are virtually nonexistent or only indicated in the most subtle manner.

The six structural panels used as dividing screens create different living areas within one continuous space. The architect simply places these elements so that the tensions produced direct the movement and the eye toward a large platform, while the wide sliding windows that move on concealed rails in the floor and ceiling help to link the space with the surrounding landscape.

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