homify 360°: Tiny Riverside House in Japan

Alissa Ugolini—homify UK Alissa Ugolini—homify UK
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In countries like Japan, where space is at an absolute premium, architects, designers and homeowners alike are having to think outside the box for space-saving, and conversely, space-maximising solutions. The average house size in Japan is around 95m², which is actually only a fraction bigger than the average house in the United Kingdom at 76m². For this family of three, a strangely shaped block was purchased at a dead-end section of a road. Triangular in shape, this misfit piece of land by the river has been totally reinvented in such a way that only 52.14m² feels palatial and spacious inside. This limited amount of space comes as no surprise, as the area the home is located in has a growing population density of 4,120 people per km². This is indeed one of those rare instances when appearances are totally deceiving, given that the external envelope of the building looks petite and dwarfed next to the neighbouring buildings. So, let's teleport for a moment to Yokosuka in Japan, which funnily enough was the first city in Japan that a Briton ever stepped foot onto, and see what Mizuishi Architect Atelier was ingeniously able to achieve on such a small footprint of space.

A triangular plot of land

If you look closely at the block of land that this house is situated upon, most people would think it impossible to build a liveable home, if any home at all. The Zenpukuji River, which flows through the city of Tokyo, is the cause of the gentle curve and strange nature of the land. Sandwiched between the river and street, the outlines of the triangle are not loose, in fact, it is a hard, sharp shape with very little room to move. Therefore, this home needed to work within the confines and the contour of the block, and adapt to the space that has been provided.

Bold geometry

This eye-catching property works wonderfully with the land, mimicking the outlines provided. The house is two storey, giving the property an overall footprint of 55.24m². Two colours define and separate the ground and first floors, with the bottom section clad in siding board (fibre cement) and the upper floor in galvanised steel. In actual fact, the first floor is larger than the ground floor, fluctuating in such a way that is resembles the bow of a ship. Given the narrowness evidenced in this image, you definitely wouldn't think this home would provide a comfortable and habitable space.

Clever partitions

The bedroom, which is located on the first floor, needs to be sectioned off from the entrance area to provide some spatial disparity and intimacy for the occupants. Without further narrowing, or darkening the bedroom, a semi-sheer curtain has been installed on a track, that can be pulled across when required. After all, when welcoming guests into your home, you may not want their first impression to be formed on your bedroom! The curtain helps to keep the space light filled and retains as sense of openness, even when it has been pulled across. 

Light-filled

On the second floor, there is a living room and dining room. As you can see, many space-saving measures have been put in place to ensure that the building is functional, yet doesn't feel small and cramped. Large glass windows have been installed on either side of this room, facing the river to ensure there is a pleasant view on at least one side. The feeling inside this space is spacious and open, which given the size of the house, is a miracle in itself. 

Double height

In such a small house, it is important that the ceilings were built as high as possible to retain a feeling of openness, and to ensure the occupants don't feel closed in and claustrophobic. This space has been cleverly designed to incorporate a mezzanine level, which increases the internal footprint. The high ceilings give the area an almost atrium-like feeling, multiplying the overall spread of the home. The upper floor will be utilised, for the time being, as a play area for the small child of the couple. Perhaps when she has grown up, it will be changed into a light-filled bedroom, or perhaps even a study area—the opportunities are many! The skylights which have been cleverly installed to the roof of this area, aid the space in feeling brighter and as though it has more width and breadth than is actually present.

Narrow build, limitless living

To finish, we find ourselves in the mezzanine, facing down onto the kitchen. Again, the architects have ensured every square metre has been put to good use, configuring the kitchen in such a away that the cabinetry and angles work in harmony with one another. In this small building, it has been proven that life can be lived to the fullest—and not be in the slightest way oppressive and dark given the narrow shape. All in all, the simplicity of the design in no way reflects the complexity of the concept, which in fact, shows off the skill and brilliance of the architect.

To see more small homes that pack a big punch, check out the following ideabooks:

homify 360°: A garage conversion in Dublin

homify 360º: Extended terraced home, Hackney

Whitton Drive:  Terrace house by GK Architects Ltd

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