Friday, 14 June 2013

Living with cars

Regularly, about once a year, someone shows off the design of a private house where, like sleek recumbent pet whippets, one or more special cars share the living space.  Kenji Yanagawa of Japan does it more often than most.  Twice in five days, he features in designboom with what appears to be a recurring motif in his work.  The earlier post features a home in Osaka organised around a Porsche 911, the later a 'case study' house that frames a whole car elevator with three luxury cars.

It is tempting to think of such indulgences as irrelevant to constructive arguments about sustainability, except in the most damning way.  That would be doing an injustice, especially to the latter project.  I know little of Yanagawa's wider practice, but I am glad that I looked a little harder at what he is doing with this house for an obviously wealthy client.

So, just what good can you see in a house accommodating three cars worth more than five McMansions?

Well, firstly, that it is politely unobtrusive, tucked into its steep hillside preserving the view from the roadway and houses above it.  Not that this would be considered a sustainability criterion in its own right, but it sure puts you in a more receptive mood to keep reading.

Secondly – and this is the start of the proper sustainability story – that it is far from a McMansion, even by Japanese standards.  Quite the contrary, the house is a remarkably compact design, in what can only be described as very normal building elements, composed with the neo-modernist restraint so unexceptional in Japan.  You could describe it as 'right size', a total floor area of 146.70㎡ on a construction area of 95.58㎡.

Thirdly, it is cleverly supported on a disused former septic tank, which constitutes a significant saving on heavily engineered footings in earthquake prone Japan.  The article doesn't state whether the tank is also used for detention of stormwater, but it wouldn't surprise me if it is.

And so on it goes.  It does not surprise that despite the monolithic appearance, the construction is timber framed.  Though (parenthetically) one has to be careful assuming too much about timber construction in Japan.  Japanese construction methods use an extraordinary amount of timber, not entirely attributable to earthquake engineering.  And the industry is rapaciously cost conscious, importing softwoods from Scandinavia and other places while leaving the sustainable resource of exquisite satoyama managed woodlots unutilised.

But I make too much of an initial pleasant surprise.  Without a lot more research, I wouldn't be able to say just how good are the sustainability credentials of the 'case study house'.  My point was only that there is always more than meets the eye, and a small amount of scrutiny can sometimes yield surprising insights.
  • See more on the 'case study house' here.
  • The house with the Porsche in Osaka appears to me a much more self-conscious, overworked celebration of industrial chic.  To my mind much less instructive, but make up your own here.

No comments: