Posts Tagged ‘Japanese design’

Aalto’s Villa Mairea in Finland

Saturday, June 20th, 2009

Aalto's Villa Mairea in Noormarkku, Finland

Alvar Aalto’s Villa Mairea in Noormarkku, Finland, built between 1937 and 1939 as a rural retreat, is considered one of the greatest houses of the 20th century. Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, who curated a major retrospective of Aalto’s work at the Barbican in London in 2007, says photographs give no real sense of Aalto’s buildings. But short of flying to Finland, here are Flickr photos by 08 ROTCH simoneauFrans Drewniak (drz image), Siren Fay, Andrew Paul Carr, bttgcm, Ashley Wendell, David Gross and Ettubrutae, all by permission. For further reading on this amazing house, there’s an excellent article on Aalto and Ban’s curation of his work at designbuild or look at Phaidon’s Villa Mairea Aid. The house shows evidence of Aalto’s various interests in Japanese design, in sustainable architecture, and in simple, natural materials used in an experimental way. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater was also an influence, and you can see that here, but while I appreciate Fallingwater, I would rather live in Villa Mairea.


Villa Mairea - Aalto

Villa Mairea IX / Alvar Aalto



villa mairea by ashley wendell



Villa Mairea - Aalto

Villa Mairea - Aalto

Click below for more photos.


More Paul Rudolph houses – exteriors and interiors

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

Milam Residence, Paul Rudolph, Architect, courtesy Paul Rudolph Foundation

Milam Residence, Paul Rudolph, Architect, courtesy Paul Rudolph Foundation

More houses by Paul Rudolph. I’m not sure why I like him so much; maybe it’s the feeling that every space is designed for a party, or the use of white, or that he went so glam/space age in the 60s and 70s. I like all the low Japanese-style seating, often set in one-step-deep conversation pits. Almost all his houses have this in common, whether they’re strict midcentury modern or 60s/70s mod. Whatever happened to conversation pits? I believe he’s underrated. His Modulightor house was in the previous post, and above is the Milam Residence; below is the Green Residence.

Paul Rudolph - The Green Residence

Paul Rudolph - The Green Residence

The Bass Residence, faintly like a white Frank Lloyd Wright:

Paul Rudolph - Bass Residence

Bass Residence, courtesy the Paul Rudolph Foundation

Below, the Cohen House, also via here, shown present day (in condition almost identical to original, for resale since it’s currently for sale) and also shortly after it was built. But what happened to the cool lamps flanking the fireplace?

cohen house by paul rudolph, photo by siebert architects

Paul Rudolph - The Green Residence

Cohen Residence by Paul Rudolph

Paul Rudolph - The Cohen Residence

The Hiss Residence, also known as the Umbrella House. All photos by Kelviin of the Paul Rudolph Foundation.

Umbrella House or Hiss Residence, courtesy the Paul Rudolph Foundation

Umbrella House or Hiss Residence, courtesy the Paul Rudolph Foundation

Below is the fairly psychedelic, late 70s glam Edersheim Apartments.

Edersheim Apartment by Paul Rudolph, 1970


Rudolph’s own apartment in the Beekman Building: lots and lots of parties. Lots and lots of house plants.

Rudolph Residence in the Beekman Building, NYC, by Paul Rudolph

And finally, as already shown in our first Rudolph post, the Alexander Hirsch Residence, later owned and refinished by Halston:

House by Paul Rudolph

Japanese interiors – updated traditional farmhouses

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

Japanese country interior - lo res

The photo above shows the central living area of a rural farmhouse on the border of Tochigi and Ibaraki prefectures. The house was restored by Kenji Tsuchisawa who bought it as a rundown heap when he was only 20, after seeing a photograph of a traditional Japanese farmhouse on a Tokyo magazine cover. He bought the house before realizing it was situated just one village away from the house in the magazine.

Many Japanese traditional farmhouses have now been restored and modernized, but the layout of these houses is so clever in terms of use of space and comfort that when they are updated, the original layout is often retained. It’s a house model being studied by North American and European architects aiming to produce smaller but more functional houses. Traditional Japanese houses are not large, but they seem larger than they are thanks to their well-thought-out layout. And their serene, warm version of minimalism makes them comfortable and functional. The use of natural materials and repeated colours makes the rooms feel balanced and uncluttered, and so does the fact that most objects have a real function. Decorative elements exist, but not to excess. When these houses are modernized carefully, the main alteration is usually the replacement of the original exterior doors and windows, and trading the sliding shoji screen doors and windows for more sturdily framed glass doors, windows and skylights to let in more light and keep out the weather.

Japanese country interior - lo res

Both photos above show the traditional indoor fire pit known as an irori, which sometimes sits on a raised seating platform, though in the photo above the irori has been traded for a more efficient (and safer) wood stove. The beautiful half-frosting on the glass screen doors in the photo above provides some privacy from the fairly public courtyard for people seated inside. Photos are from a book I think is really worth buying: Japan Country Living: Spirit, Tradition, Style, by Amy Sylvester Katoh, photographs by Shin Kimura, Charles E. Tuttle Company, Rutland, Vermont and Tokyo, Japan, 1993. Kimura’s work has also appeared in Met Home and Paris Vogue.

Checkerboard textile of indigo-dyed hemp by Hiroyuki Shindo

Above is a checkerboard textile of indigo-dyed, handwovern hemp by Hiroyuki Shindo, on the verandah of his thatched house. It provides privacy (it appears opaque from outside, see here) and yet admits light and the view. Below, a functional modern kitchen produced by making only minor changes to the original.

Somewhat modernized kitchen in traditional Japanese rural house

Traditional Japanese scarecrows

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

Traditional indigo textile scarecrow, Japan

Traditional indigo textile scarecrow, Japan

The bottom photo shows a functioning scarecrows made of indigo-dyed hemp. The original book caption reads “The bold design of this piece of shibori-dyed hemp by Seizo Ishikawa, a farmer, seems at home working as a scarecrow by a newly harvested rice field.” The birds in Japan must have been accustomed to seeing farmers in real Japanese indigo yukatas, waving their arms. In the top photo, however, the proximity to the house suggests mainly the traditional Japanese method of drying kimono, yukata and other garments, but it probably conveniently doubled as a scarecrow. The target design is interesting, perhaps suggesting part of an eye? From the excellent book Japan Country Living: Spirit, Tradition, Style by Amy Sylvester Katoh, photographs by Shin Kimura, Charles E. Tuttle Company, Rutland, Vermont and Tokyo, Japan, 1993. Kimura’s work has also appeared in Met Home and Paris Vogue. Also see their excellent book Japan: The Art of Living.

Guest house by Paul Hayden Kirk in Seattle

Saturday, March 14th, 2009

Kawana Kirk

Kirk End Elevation

Kirk Bloedel

Flickr photos by Ken McCown, a designer and professor of architecture and landscape design. This is a beautiful Japanese-influenced guest house by architect Paul Hayden Kirk (1914-1995) at the Bloedel Reserve in Seattle. It seems to be halfway between a Case Study house and a traditional Japanese farmhouse. Kirk, who produced many important buildings in Seattle, had built in the international style in the 1950s but began to feel it was “an imposition on the land” and he subsequently moved toward the warmer modernism evident here. The guest house is said to contain pieces by George Nakashima, and the beautiful japanese garden was designed by Dr. Koichi Kawana.

The Japanese live comfortably in tiny spaces. Could we?

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

traditional japanese farmhouse

In the western world, 750 sq ft apartments can seem really small, even for just two people. The excerpt below is from an interesting article by Nold Egenter, a Swiss architectural anthropologist, on the cultural influences that allow the Japanese to live comfortably in what North Americans would consider small spaces. From the traditional peasant farmer’s wooden house, above, to contemporary tiny houses and apartments in contemporary Tokyo, Japanese living spaces have often measured less than 500 or 600 square feet, and yet they easily house a whole family. How is this possible?

Several years ago a study of the European Community concluded that the Japanese live in “rabbit cages.” The study was based essentially on statistical research which showed that the average dwelling space for a family in urban agglomerations hardly amounts to 40 square meters [430 sq. ft.]. Great astonishment! “Why do two out of three Japanese affirm that they like their life and that in general they are content?” In view of the fact that in Europe today a corresponding family needs roughly 100 square meters [1000 sq. ft.] – that is to say, two and a half times as much – one could ask the counter question: Do we waste space? Why does the average urban family in Japan manage with so much less dwelling surface and still feel comfortable? In such purely quantitative comparisons, it is often overlooked that spatial needs are closely related to the constructive design, and this is determined by the specific cultural tradition. To illustrate this point there is hardly any better example than that of Japan. Its architectural heritage and its dwelling culture developed under entirely different cultural and geographical conditions from those with which we are familiar.

Environmental and economic constraints are forcing us away from the sprawling way we have lived over the past century. If Negenter is right (to read his whole article, click at the end of this post), both architecture and dwelling habits have to change in order to make city living in small spaces more workable, and that obviously won’t happen overnight (though apparently it’s happening already). North American apartment, house and condo architecture would have to change, and so would our daily tools, appliances, expectations and habits. Nearly every design magazine and design blog now constantly revisits the question of how to live in fewer square feet, but perhaps what is needed is a much less piecemeal approach, and something that goes a little deeper than the “ten tips for living small” approach.

Tiny Tokyo house by Japanese architect Kazuyo Sejima

Bump House, Tokyo

The houses shown here are larger than many Japanese apartments. They are spacious by Japanese standards but still tiny by North American standards. All are less than 1000 square feet inside, some much less, and all make use of previously unused empty urban lots. The tiny white Tokyo house at top is by Japanese architect Kazuyo Sejima, whose most recent project is the New Museum in New York (great picture of her by Annie Liebowitz here). Directly above is the relatively large Bump house, (900 sq ft) and below is a tiny house by Sschemata (760 sq ft). I suspect they’re all white because it makes them seem larger. See Apartment Therapy on 300 sq. ft. houses, and see also a great post on increasing the perceived size of a house through Japanese building techniques – the videos show a number of tiny urban Japanese houses. Top ten ways Japanese live small is here. And a small article here by O.N. Gillespie, author of The Japanese House. North American example? Tumbleweed Tiny Houses.

Tokyo house by Sschemata