Water Cherry House
José Miguel Rodrigues
The primitive form of a temple, or rather the primeval form of a temple.1 A domestic interior and an exterior of domesticated nature. In the sense of seeking to dominate nature, but also in the sense of being like nature. In short, the age-old idea of the Japanese garden. Tradition. The tradition of the craft and the tradition of Japanese architecture, that is: tatami, shōji and fusuma, at least. That’s all Kengo Kuma needs to design a house. Let’s see.
The house is like a sum of smaller houses that, resorting to that first image of the home, ever present in architecture, emulates the constructive and formal idea of the temple as an ideal home for equally idealised gods. The roof is therefore always gabled (the word assumes here an almost literal character). Its frontal view always shows the raking cornices of a pediment (from a western perspective of architecture). In the case of traditional Japanese construction, timber lightens the structure. The space around the interior calls for a second peripheral roof, also naturally inclined to the outside, that drains rainwater to the germinating land. The rest (not a remnant though) is: tatami, shōji and fusuma. From a western perspective, these correspond to the floor, the windows and the walls.
In Japanese culture, as we can see from the low point of view of the camera with which Ozu makes his films, the floor is the domain of living. In the West, everything is prudently moved away from the floor. In Japan the floor is the focus of domestic life. It’s no different in the Water Cherry house.
In Japanese culture, it is the shōji that filters the light and obscures the view of whoever is inside. The shōji, like windows, have adapted well to modern glass. Since the invention of this material, inside and outside (exterior and interior) can remain in communication (through looking) and without communication (from the point of view of the other senses, especially, sound, touch, and smell). That’s how it is in the Water Cherry house.
In Japanese culture, the fusuma, by sliding, allow different spatial configurations within the same space. They are movable walls, walls that contradict the stability which is specific to them and that dispense with their characteristic immobility to allow entering and exiting like a door, but also rearranging dimensions, proportions and the orientation of spaces. In the Water Cherry house the glazing appears to behave like fusuma.
The Imperial town of Katsura, as Bruno Taut seems to have been one of the first to understand from a Western perspective, is the insurmountable reference to Japanese garden architecture. Kengo Kuma tells us that he discovered the tradition of Japanese architecture while studying the History of Architecture in New York. The Water Cherry house is the result of this lesson.
Kengo Kuma is a cultured architect who does not shy away from the toughest issues. Naturally, he says of some of his past works, in which the expression of tradition had not yet been found: “To be honest, sometimes I feel a bit embarrassed by some of my buildings”.2 The Ionian monumental nature of the M2 building in Tokyo is an experience that has no echo in the Water Cherry house. Since the tsunami of 2011, Kengo Kuma is a different architect. Today he recommends humility to architects.3
1. The hesitation and the play on words is justified and deliberate. The primitive form of a temple in the sense of archetype of the classical temple relating to the literary history of the term, in the sense that Marc Antoine Laugier attributed to his primitive hut. The primeval form of a temple in the sense of the first form acquired by the classical temple since time immemorial, that is to say, the Greek temple which was succeeded by the Roman temple and, subsequently, since the renaissance, all the successors and offspring of this idea, being continuously updated. Essentially, the first hypothesis is that of primitivism, the second, that of classicism. The first looks for the archetype (of the primitive hut) to rediscover the strength of the first idea. The second seeks instead to tie up loose ends, i.e. the modern substitute for the ancient temple, in the conviction that they contain, integrate and improve on all previous ones, without excluding any of these ancestors.
Location Eastern Japan
Architecture Kengo Kuma & Associates
Author Kengo Kuma
Structural Engineering Makino Structural Design
Electrical Engineering Kandenko
Mechanical Engineering Taisei Setsubi