Japanese architects EASTERN design office have completed a five-storey residential project in Sumizome, Kyoto, Japan.
Apartments are arranged around an inner courtyard with 15 metre-high concrete curves framing eleven windows.
Called Slit Court, the building is situated among narrow streets and the courtyard aims to increase the amount of natural light admitted to each apartment.
Residents enter the courtyard through a tunnel decorated with concrete shapes representing cherry trees.
Photographs are by Koichi Torimrua.
Slit Court – a hidden potentiality of an inner court
The essence of this architecture lies in an inner court．
The site is at Sumizome, Fushimi, Kyoto. It is a small town with a long and distinguished history, situated south of Tofukuji temple. South-facing, the building is built on a gentle slope.
It is a collective housing of five stories. Two tenants occupy the front and back side of the first floor. There are four units on the second to fourth floor and two units on the fifth floor.
The site of a Japanese house is generally small and a narrow lot is facing to a narrow street. Even in a historic town, it happens that such a narrow street is turned to a main street to be the transportation route for cars, then it is no more a place where town people had once shared joy of living together. Therefore in our architecture, we make the inner living space a place to protect what matters in life. We try to protect sky, land and light inside the building.
This inner court is not just a so called void, but it has a symbolic meaning which will be clarified within following:
- Device of the inner court
- Form of the inner court
- A path that passes under cherry trees
- Meaning of the inner court
Device of the inner court
Summing up the devices of an inner court. There is a revised balance in the inner court, because the hidden place is brighter than the main street.
A hidden place dark – bright
Town vs architecture, main street vs narrow path, inside vs outside of rooms, mixing up the elements of light and darkness found in them.
Inner place dark – bright
What is “inside” of the entire construction is “outside” for the residents of each dwelling unit. In this collective housing there is an “inside” which is quite different from a closed and isolated individual housing unit.
Fracturing and mixing inside and outside – brightThis brightness bears sky, ground and light in it.
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Form of the inner court
In the middle of the building we made a cylindrical inner court with the height of 15 meters in a space of 7×5.5 m. Building a void at the recessed place from the main street, sky, ground and light are framed.
Eleven curved slits (narrow windows) are winding on the surface of four concrete walls. The movement of rising upward spiral curves becomes a dream of a curve, revealing each resident another dream that his room, blue sky and stars are connected. The view blocked by the slim windows will softly protect the subtle quietness inside it.
Two backrooms enclose inner court as two L-shaped rooms. People can spend their days feeling close to the existence of the inner court.The high wall is cut at a slant according to the sun’s angle of winter solstice (the day when the sun is the lowest). Ample lights can be taken into the rooms even in midwinter. Yet there is no sense of blocking the sky.
A path that passes under cherry treesTo enter this inner court, we pass under the cherry tree carved on the exterior wall. This cherry tree is a pale charcoal cherry named Sumizomezakura. Sumizome is also the name of this town. The legend inherited here over 1200 years says that this type of cherry tree bears pale charcoal colored cherry blossoms when singing a song mourning a dead people.
The path passing under the cherry tree leads to another world. When passing through the tunnel, you will suddenly find an inner court. The exterior wall is a gate for the cherry tree.
The path passing under the cherry tree leads to a back street which again leads to another road. The urban structure of Kyoto is inherited here in this way of land using. Catching a glimpse of the inner court, residents will go into their own unit.
Meaning of the inner court
Frontage adjacent to the street is narrow in Kyoto, it continues deep to the back. Therefore it is difficult to have many rooms which can take ample light. However much light enter the inner court, which enables a construction on a narrow lot to have sunny rooms.
Buying many small lots and make a large building sites to design buildings with large floor space, or expanding a new district, building sidewalks and squares will not always lead to create superior architecture.
In contrast with these methods of expansion, this architecture is created on a narrow path. A structure that suddenly appears and provides a segregated and hidden place.
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SITE: Kyoto, Japan
TOTAL FLOOR AREA: 992.94m2
SITE AREA: 440.12m2
RC: 5 Story