House in Tokyo by Kazuyo Sejima

Sejima, a dedicated minimalist in the Miesian tradition, oversees an international practice while maintaining a hectic schedule of lecturing, jurying for design competitions, and teaching (currently at ETH in Zurich). Her office staff numbers 20, housed in the upper reaches of a Tokyo warehouse. Although in the past she has been criticized for less than rigorous construction detailing and execution, her recent buildings reveal a new level of confidence and sophistication.

I visited three just-completed buildings by Sejima: her radical, glass-sheathed health and community centre for elderly people in Yokohama (imagine a very skinny, elongated Farnsworth House) and the new HH STYLE design store, and a nearby house for a young SONY designer, a gently flowing, handsomely proportioned, strangely peaceful architectural space. By Japanese standards, all three are “low budget.”

The tiny 100 square metre house, completed in October 2000 on a costly lot at the end of a narrow laneway, was by far the most memorable. Bent at the base to make room for the family station wagon, the four floors (one below grade) gently tilt forward, then back, culminating in a lovely bathroom and adjacent mesh-enclosed deck at the top. The vertical, glass-enclosed structure is steel with concrete floor plates. The same engineers worked with Ito on the Sendai building discussed on the following page.

The plan is simple–similar stacked spaces around an off-centre spiral stair. But the sectional composition and bending generate subtle surprises such as views to the sky and an enveloping warm white intimacy. This place strongly communicated domesticity and “home” without bowing one bit to nostalgia.