Natural State: The Striking Kyodo House Embraces its Environment
As well as its striking profile, interesting use of materials and relaxed aesthetic, what really sets Kyodo House apart is its symbiotic relationship with its environment.
In a quiet residential neighbourhood half an hour’s drive from Tokyo’s bustling city centre lies Kyodo House, a home that was built with respect for the environment in mind by using sustainable principles. The structure is a compact one, spanning only 156m2, and emits an awareness for nature that is reinforced by its facade – which is clad in discarded wooden offcuts – as well as interiors that feature recycled materials and secondhand furniture.
Owned by art director and designer Hidenori Kondo of Sandwich and his wife Ayumi, who works for Japanese fashion brand Comme des Garçons, this house is quite unusual in that it was designed and built not just by one artist, one architect or only by engineers. Sandwich is a Kyoto-based creative platform of various disciplines with a team of graphic designers, architects and creatives, so it was simple to find the right group of experts to carry out the build. The first thing that strikes you when looking at the building is its exterior, which is the result of a collaboration between Sandwich and design collective Team Low-Energy.
Inspired by a painting that hangs in the entrance hall by Kohei Nawa, a Japanese artist and the founder of Sandwich who is known for his incredible installations and fascination with mixed materials, the texture symbolises falling rain and results in a rhythmic, almost-hypnotic effect. This feeling of tranquillity extends to the interior, with its simple, honest materials and walls panelled in scrap wood. Based on design rationales that hark back to ancient Japanese temples, the house relies on the natural breeze to keep it cool instead of modern air- conditioning, which is rare in humid Tokyo.
To exploit the principle of hot air rising, the family sleeps in the basement during the summer months, and on the first and second floors in the winter. All living spaces are orientated south to take advantage of the sun’s energy, and each floor includes large windows that can be pushed aside to let the air flow freely and further connect the house to the trees outside. Designed by Japanese contemporary artist Yuichi Kodai, the home’s architecture consists of several overlapping boxes that dictate the internal layout.
The majority of the ground floor is taken up by a large open-plan living area that is home to a dining table, kitchen and 4m-high bookshelf that links every floor. Filled with novels as well as art, poetry and design books, its convenient location means that when walking up the plywood staircase, you can easily grab a book to read. And if you don’t want to use the stairs, you can always do as the homeowners’ daughter Sola does and move between floors via the thick, knotted rope swing that hangs from a rectangular ceiling void, which also acts as a ventilation tower.
Hidenori says that this home offers him and his family ‘an opportunity to experience the art of living a good life’, both inside its walls and out. As is typical of most Japanese properties, the residence fills its plot, leaving room for only a small vegetable garden, which is irrigated with rainwater that collects on the back of the house. It is eco-aware details such as these which emphasise that Kyodo House is designed to be as sustainable as possible – in its structure and in its building materials – making it a contemporary family home that is also an innovative celebration of nature.
A 4m-high bookshelf links every floor of the house and reflects the couple’s love of literature.
The lounge occupies one end of the open-plan living area and is furnished with a vintage sofa and reclaimed tree stump (as a sidetable), upon which stands an Akari 1A table lamp by Isamu Noguchi for Vitra (vitra.com). A rope hangs from a rectangular ceiling void and allows the owners’ daughter Sola to slide down between floors without taking the stairs.
On the burner in the kitchen is a frequently used espresso pot.
A plywood staircase connects the basement and lower level to the upper floors, and provides a lofty vantage point from which you can look down and admire the dining table with its large dishes from Italy and Japan.
The terrace is an extension of the main bedroom and connects the residence to its surrounds.
Simple, tactile materials have been used throughout, as is reflected in the bathroom’s concrete- clad bath and porcelain grey tiles.
Based on design rationales that date back to ancient Japanese temples, the building relies on the natural breeze to keep it cool, and a ventilation tower has been included to assist in this regard.
The main bedroom has been kept intentionally minimal, and the presence of a stamp on the bottom of the panelled wall shows that the wood used is scrap – another reminder of this house’s eco-friendly principles. The dressmaker’s mannequin is from Comme des Garçons, the Japanese fashion brand for which Ayumi works.
o exploit the principle of hot air rising, the family sleeps only on the upper floors in the cooler autumn and winter months. As a result, Hidenori and Ayumi’s bedroom is often closed off from the rest of the house by a wooden sliding door.