Category Archives: Japanese design

Window Walls and Rooms-Within-Rooms

Every Solid Loves a Void — and Space is a Wrap

Let’s explore two strong architectural ideas — the window wall and the room-within-a-room — and how they can enhance house design. Both have long histories. In one sense the glass wall goes all the way back to the tall banks of windows at the Tudor estate known as Hardwick Hall in England, built by Bess

of Hardwick in the late 1500s, shown here (photo courtesy Anglotopia.net). At that time glass was an important emblem of power and wealth because it was so rare — thus it was a fitting material for the richest woman in England after Queen Elizabeth I. You didn’t mess with Bess. A more recent example is the glass

living room wall to the right of the tree courtyard, at the Pavilion de l’Esprit Nouveau designed by Le Corbusier and built as a demonstration house or “machine for living” for the Paris Exposition of 1925 (photo courtesy 4rts.wordpress.com). As we have seen in previous posts, the window wall became a signature feature of Modernism, especially in mid-twentieth century works like Mies Van Der Rohe’s Farnsworth house and Philip Johnson’s Glass

House. Our Plan 520-4, by Irish architect Frank McGahon, shown here with its flanking window walls, is a recent version. The great appeal of the window wall is to unite inside and outside while framing both. The trick is to beware of exposures — even insulated glass can transmit heat and cold.

The room-within-a-room idea is vividly illustrated by a piece of furniture, also from England of centuries ago: the Great Bed of Ware, ca. 1580, with its large

post and beam frame and heavy curtains closing it off for privacy and warmth (photo courtesy Wikipedia).

Thomas Jefferson’s bed alcove at Monticello, shown above, is a sort of built-in version, minus the curtains (photo courtesy Colonial Williamsburg). Architect Charles Moore was fascinated with this idea and referred to it as an aedicula, which is Latin for a small shrine. (The most famous example of an aedicula

is the baldacchino with twisting columns over the altar at St. Peter’s in Rome, by Bernini, photo courtesy Saintpetersbasilica.org.) Moore used a much simplified version of it in his own house at Orinda from the early 1960s, where the larger

living and smaller bathing spaces are defined by columns and skylights, like separate domestic temples clustered under one roof (image courtesy Eleanor Weinel’s Arch4443). Moore’s design partner, William Turnbull, used an even more spare — and more Jeffersonian — version in his Sea Ranch cottage of the early 1980s, which is our historical Plan 447-1, where the bed is an alcove

in the corner. A flexible contemporary take on this idea is “The Cube” designed by architect Toshi Kasa of Spaceflavor for Feng Shui expert Liu Ming in his live/work loft in Oakland, California (photo by Joe Fletcher via The New York

 Times). The 8 foot-square cube-on-wheels is a bedroom on one side and an office on the other, allowing Mr. Ming to use the rest of his loft for his classes. I trust the brakes are on in case there’s an earthquake.

An outdoor room within a garden is yet another way to go, as architect Ross

Anderson shows in our Plan 433-2, above. See the outdoor fireplace opposite the built-in bench forming a small living area at the edge of the courtyard in this partial view.

But where might the window wall and the room-in-a-room work together? How about Hojo House by Akira Yoneda of Architecton in Japan. The glass house is

behind an elegant scrim of steel tubes, creating a modified screen porch that distracts from the very tight infill site (thoughts of cages inevitably spring to mind; photo courtesy infoteli.com). But I think today’s most famous example of the two ideas working together might be the marvelous glass cube entrance to the Apple store

on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, where the novelty of a structure that is there-and-not-there makes you see everything around it — like the Plaza Hotel across the street — more clearly. The simple contrast between solid and void is visually refreshing and builds a larger whole. Designed by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, Apple’s magic container makes you realize it is a room within the much larger room that is the terrace on which it sits, the street, and the edge of Central Park itself. Some ideas just expand!

Sarah Susanka, Hip Roofs, and Prairie Style DNA

Aloha Sarah — and Mahalo Frank

Let’s take a DNA strand out of Henry Louis Gates’ fascinating Finding Your Roots show on PBS, and apply it to residential architecture and our latest design by architect Sarah Susanka, Plan 454-11. It was  originally

conceived for a dramatic view-oriented meadow on the Big Island of Hawaii, as shown here. The plan is a new addition to our Signature Studio and one of the descendants, if you will, of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie School houses (remember the recent film of the same name about a Hawaiian family, starring George Clooney — genealogy is everywhere at the moment!). I’m thinking of the

Ward Willits house in Highland Park,Illinois, of 1901, shown above (photo and plan, courtesy delmars.com). See how the hipped roofs and horizontal lines of the Willits house dominate, appearing to float over the deeply recessed eaves. Susanka’s roofs also float; her design resembles a series of interlocking pavilions shaped to capture views in every direction. In the Willits plan, below, the

rooms radiate from the hearth at the center of a pinwheel, further accentuating the horizontality of the design and thereby expressing the lines of the Prairie

itself, hence the style name. Sarah Susanka’s plan, above, does something similar but within the overall constraint of the rectangle. A generous central hearth also anchors her design while the island kitchen, living room, dining room, and bedroom wings reach toward terraces and the landscape beyond. A classic

Susanka touch is to craft a room-within-a room for a sense of intimacy in a larger space, as she does here in the breakfast alcove with its built in seating and

window walls. She uses dropped soffits — like abstract cornices — to support concealed lighting and vary ceiling heights, which is also something Wright did. Susanka’s use of wood to articulate structure also recalls Japanesque design and this resonates with Wright and his lifelong interest in Japanese prints, not to mention his design of the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo from the early 1920s. It turns out he traveled to Japan for the first time in 1905, with guess who — Mr. and Mrs. Willits.

But you may ask, how does Prairie style relate to Hawaii? Well actually, there’s a logical connection, and it has to do with the hipped roof. The Hawaiian architect Charles Dickey is credited with developing a regional Hawaiian style of architecture through his use of the broadly sheltering hip roof — as shown

on his own house of 1926 at Waikiki (photo courtesy Wikipedia). Bertram

Goodhue’s more elongated hip roof for the Honolulu Academy of Art of 1927 developed the form on a monumental scale (photo by Burl Burlingame courtesy Honolulu Star Bulletin). Though the Wrightian and Susankan roofs read more as separate geometric units that seem to levitate over their structures than the Hawaiian hips, I think you can see the visual DNA connection. I’d just call them calabash cousins — i.e. extended family — no saliva test required.

New Products at KBIS

Showtime

At the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show (KBIS) in Las Vegas last week I had the feeling I was watching a market in transition. Overall, I saw an emphasis on new ways to deliver products and product information such as  via iPad aps  but  fewer new introductions and exhibitors. Here’s what caught my eye.

This  “Image-in Motif” tub from Wetstyle.CA , a Canadian firm, is seductive.The calligraphy pattern is part of the design. I like the Zen-like simplicity of the oval shape (also available without the lettering), which would be a nice upgrade for my bathroom!

For something a little different in the bathroom, especially for the younger set, how about turning your tub into a fire truck. Perhaps something Salvador Dali might appreciate…It’s possible with American Standard’s FunBath Temporary Bath Conversion. The solid molded acrylic tub deck and front panel apron fit over your conventional tub. They can easily be removed when the truck no longer appeals. Ingenious!

Turning the closet pole into a lighting system is a clever idea — and puts the light right where you need it most — along the bottom of the pole shining on the top of the hangers. I can see this Sempria Illumirod from Task Lighting becoming especially useful for smaller, darker, narrower closets.

Solid surface countertops with quartz crystals saw expanding color and pattern choices. Dupont Zodiaq introduced  five new colors

inspired by spices, bringing their total palette up to 59 hues. Korean solid surface producer Hanwha added a little “life” to their introduction of new Hanstone quartz colors by using people dressed in skin tight body suits to  call attention to several new designs including Indian Pearl (left),  Grigio (center), and Sabbia (right). Cambria also unveiled new colors.The trend in all these colors seems to be toward a little more veining and figuration in the pattern, approximating various granites and marbles. These materials are  smooth, non-porous, and exceptionally hard.

Italian design is always worth seeing and the Colombini Group presented its new City line of Kitchen cabinetry — a sleek minimalist dove gray/beige (like an Armani suit), with doors faced in melamine for easy cleaning. I like the way the table extends at right angles from the island: an alternative to the typical breakfast bar. Finally there seemed to be more toilets at this show than any other product: every possible size and flush ratio was represented as the Japanese brand Inax showed.Toto introduced their Aquia high efficiency toilet,which is an all-in-one fixture. Kohler’s big splash was the Numi, the sculptural modern rectangular fixture that does everything imaginableincluding greet you when you walk into the bathroom (motion sensors make this possible). It also provides music. Another novel feature is its flushing sensor: if you remain aboard for longer than a set period,a stronger flush ensues. This reminds me of an inscription on a public bench in Denver: “If you wish to rest, rest not too long.” The Numi took years and many engineers from various disciplines to produce and is an impressive technological achievement.

In Praise of the Japanese Imagination

Looking East

Our hearts go out to the Japanese people in this tragic time. Scenes of incalculable destruction by earthquake and tsunami make me want to articulate my unshakable faith in Japan as an extraordinarily creative and resilient and influential force in the world of architecture and design. So here is a brief toast to the Japanese imagination.

Look at this new library for Musashino Art University, 25 miles west of central Tokyo, where bookshelves become floor-to-ceiling frames for every room (image courtesy Architectural Record). The building, by Sou Fugimoto, is “a single large spiral-shaped bookshelf encased in a glass box,” as Record writer Naomi Pollock aptly describes it. I love this image of the grand staircase — showing all the ways one can read, from books to I-Pads — because it expresses the very foundations of possibility. The metaphors are resonant: building on the book and a staircase for the mind.

Japanese design has always stimulated creative thought. Remember the great Zen Buddhist Ryoan-ji Dry Garden at Kyoto. When I visited many years ago it was early in the morning and for a few minutes there was only one other person on the wooden steps overlooking the raked gravel sea with its 15 stones-as-islands. For that brief moment the garden was the world and the world was the garden (photo by Marcus Trimble through Creative Commons). The cold light outlined gravel furrows and the grain of the wood and time suspended. At the Imperial Villa of Katsura (17th century) not far away, which I also toured, the experience is very different: an orchestrated promenade where the control of sights and spatial experience is everything, from the structurally expressive bamboo fence at the entrance to the painterly Nut Pine tree flanked by hedges.  Every step and view appears planned: you look down to pay attention to the stone path you are treading and then look up to see another special tree or view across the lake (previous three photos courtesy Gardening Grandpa website). The villa buildings are equally eloquent in their forms, functions, and seamless connections to the landscape. The journey through the complex makes you perceive more sharply the constituent parts of the composition and ultimately its wholeness (photo by Wiiii through Creative Commons). But this is only my amateur reaction. In his fascinating book Japan-ness in Architecture (MIT Press, 2006, 2011), the eminent architect Arata Isozaki explains that the buildings and garden of Katsura form an ambiguous composition of overlapping styles, spatial arrangements, and literary allusions: “the equivalent of an extensive machine for arousing all our imaginative facilities.” Such monuments have been rediscovered and reinterpreted by successive generations of architects and designers (not to mention scholars).

The influence of Japanese design in the US began most forcefully with the Japanese Pavilion or Ho-o-den at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893

which Pasadena architect brothers Charles Sumner and Henry Mather Greene saw in the year they opened their practice, absorbing ideas like expressed joinery and garden connections that would ultimately flower in their Craftsman bungalows of the early 20th century (image courtesy Gibbs Smith publishers). Frank Lloyd Wright was another early devotee and famously became both collector and seller of graphically powerful, almost abstract Japanese prints like this view of Mt. Fuji

by Hokusai from 1831-33 (courtesy Hammer Museum), where the gable echoes the slope of the mountain. And of course he designed the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, completed in the early 1920s and which survived the great Kanto earthquake of 1923, when much of Tokyo was heavily damaged (photo of the reconstructed facade, preserved at Meiji-Mura Museum, Nagoya courtesy Wikipedia). Toward the middle of the 20th century architects saw compelling parallels between the open plan tenets of Modernism and the way tatami mats and  shoji screens defined space without walls. In furniture the influence is equally strong, with a stairstep tansu, (this is a Meiji-era cabinet, courtesy Shibui) for example, contributing important DNA to work by architects like Steve Ehrlich in this contemporary Los Angeles house; note the abstracted tansu- -as-stairway bordering the living room (photo courtesy Ehrlich Architects). Or consider such icons as George Nakashima’s Conoid Dining Table (image from galere.net) building upon the organic properties of the wood, and Isamu Noguchi’s coffee table

expressing a “there-and-not-there,” abstract, bio-morphic sensibility  (courtesy Room & Board). When you start looking, the influence of Japanese esthetics on contemporary design is everywhere. I see a Japanesque/modern abstraction in our own Plan 491-11 by Braxton Werner and Paul Field: the reduction to essentials — gable, window wall, breezeway, and engawa (a skirt-like deck) complementing a rural landscape.

The plan sits lightly on the land.

And finally, the 2010 Pritzker Prize — the Nobel of architecture — went to Japanese architects Kazuo Sejima and Riyue Nishizawa of SANAA, known for structures of understated elegance. They designed the temporary Serpentine pavilion  in London shown here (courtesy Jumpstart.11). The aluminum skin floats through the trees like an undulating mirage. The building is nature itself, uplifted and uplifting. Japanese design helps us see the world anew and I shall always be inspired by it.

Back to Basics

Choices in kitchen sinks are always expanding. I like the look and functionality of Kohler’s new under-mount Lawnfield cast iron kitchen sink(made from 93% recycled and reclaimed material) which was introduced at the Home Builder Show, where I saw it. The 9-inch deep double basin and wave-like outline complement different kitchen styles. It also comes in an over-mount version.