This is a family house conjoined with a family-run store of Japanese kimono fabrics in Yokohama. Its building site is only 53 square meters, long and narrow with a width of 4.5 meters facing the front road. To materialize a coexistence of quality life and store operation in a three-storied building, I borrowed wisdom from the traditional ‘Machiya’ (literally meaning town house) form in Kyoto, expressing it in a Japanese modern form. Being appreciated for its various ideas for that, the house got the Grand Prix of the residence division in the ‘Architectural Concours in Kanagawa’ that year.

DATA ; Three-story reinforced concrete building / Location : Minami-Yoshida cho, Minami-ku, Yokohama / Design : Takeo Kamiya architect and associates, May - December 1981 / Structural design : SDG / Furniture : Suruga Isho / Construction : Iwamoto-gumi, January - December 1982 / Site area : 42 square meters / Total floor area : 118 square meters / Selected at SD Review / Prize : Grand Prix at Architectural Concours in Kanagawa / Magazine : "Nikkei architecture" January 1984 / Photographs : Isao Imbe


The owner couple of a house cum store of Japanese kimono fabrics, which had been first operated by their parents, wanted to rebuild the decrepit two-storied wooden house, renewing the appearance of the store, creating a cozy living room, and giving their two daughters, who were going to junior high school, their own rooms.
However, the extent of the site was no more than 15 ‘tsubo’ (53 square meters), moreover the width of the facade was only 4.5 meters by the depth of 12 meters, so to say, a ‘bed for an eel’. The family might have thought that such a site could not allow for any satisfactory house. It seemingly was not until they saw my drawings and a model of the basic design that they really expected to get a beautiful, comfortable and functional house.

1st Floor Plan              2nd Floor Plan            3rd Floor Plan

To gain the required floor area, the house had to be three storied, but this ground was not firm enough to build a heavy building. Even so, I thought it was necessary to elect a sturdy stronghold of reinforced concrete rather than a light weight steel plus ALC panel building, considering the clients’ hope to fulfill their lives in this new home.

Since the depth to the bedrock of the ground was said to be 30 to 33 meters, the construction of four BH piles would have cost 4 to 5 million yen. In order to reduce the cost in half, I adopted slender friction piles for land improvement, but it came to be clear that only 40 piles would be possible to drive into the ground due to the narrowness of the site. Therefore, the structural engineer requested me to lighten the dead weight of the house. To be more precise, if the whole building up to the roof is made of concrete, its dead load would substantially exceed the 200 tons of resilient capacity of the piles.

That led me to create a mixed system of concrete and wood in structure, constructing the under part from the bottom to the lower wall of the 3rd floor with concrete, and treating all the upper part over it as a roof, which would be made of wood and partially steel in a semi-cylindrical shape to lessen the weight. It resulted in a distinctive external appearance and the children’s rooms with vaulted ceilings satisfied the daughters.

Interiors of the living room and a child's room

Incidentally, the traditional town houses (‘machiya’) in Kyoto, particularly in the Nishijin district, having consecutively such long and narrow sites, have been generating excellent residential forms that are mixed with commercial activities. I worked to create its modern edition (a new machiya), referencing their 'earthen-floor-passages’, small courtyards, top-lights, and work-life blend.

In her modern life without servants, the housewife of this machiya also works everyday cooking, sewing Japanese sahes, even typing English, needless to say tending the store. I designed the first floor as one room united from the store to the kitchen as a modern edition of the ‘earthen-floor-passage’, fixing glass-blocks as the floor of the laundry drying space on the third floor as a top-light for the 2nd floor corridor and the 1st floor dining space, through the light well of which the family members can talk to each other between different floors.

The dining space with built-up benches is a modern ‘Chanoma’ (sitting room), where the family or guests always hang out. The 3.5-meter-long table is the navel of the house, functioning as a multi-purpose worktable, where the children come down every night with their homework rather than staying in their own rooms.

    Toplight         Hidden desk

Studying house design under Prof. Junzo Yoshimura in my student days seems to have determined my view of the house; that a house is a stack of scrupulous devices for the residents’ convenience and comfort. When looking at the interiors of Ando’s houses with little furniture surrounded with unfaced concrete walls, I do not feel they are houses, though they are fascinating, like an abstinent Cistercian monasteries. To put it in extreme terms, the convenience and comfort of a house might be proportional to the quantity of built-in furniture.
Particularly in the case of this compact house, I thought it was most important to build plenty of furniture into any possible space and to design with the greatest circumspection. As a result, it became a house full of various large and small storages, closets, chests of drawers, and shelves. I suppose this is probably the direction in which Japanese town houses, tiny but possessing a lot of goods and commodities, are going.

    Storage wall in the 1st floor     Detailed section

© Takeo Kamiya
E-mail to: kamiya@t.email.ne.jp