The quaint quarters situated on the island of Hokkaido pique your interest even before you approach House M.
The second largest island of Japan is dotted with dwellings of a myriad shapes and sizes. The location of House M - what was the site of an erstwhile hospital belonging to the parents of the owner - in a classic residential area in Asahikawa, the second largest city in Hokkaido after Sapporo, is still a poignant reminder of the bygone years because of the basic elements of this exceptionally modern design. Jun Igarashi, principal architect of Jun Igarashi Architects Inc. who was entrusted with the job of converting the building into a weekend home for the owners, saw this project as an opportunity to revisit the dynamics of the area that it occupied.
In jarring contrast to its bleak surroundings - white, sharp angles, geometric shapes and a clean-cut demeanour, House M, with its acutely minimalistic undertones dominates the immediate perspective. A domestic residence, one would never imagine. More, a work of art one cannot help but be in complete awe of. House M emerges like a striking white expanse that catches the eye in the midst of a typical urban neighbourhood.
House M bears testament to the fact that Japanese architecture, which might strike some of us as radical, has given the world some illustrious spaces that reflect their surroundings, homely spaces that break all the rules, and at times, almost bizarre designs more magnificent than the priceless art that dwells in them. Although over the years, Japanese design has been evolving with massive changes in terms of innovation, aesthetics and materials, the structural components, however, remain the same. This serene, non-pretentious sensibility iswhat truly breathes life into HouseM, taking you back to basics. 268 m2 of squares and rectangles make for an unusual abode, which anyone with expectations of comfort may have second thoughts on. When Jun Igarashi, principal architect of Jun Igarashi Architects Inc., was entrusted with the job of converting the building into a weekend home for the owners, he saw this project as an opportunity to revisit the dynamics of the area that it occupied. Jun planned the villa keeping three key principles in mind: ‘Heaven’, ‘Secret Rooms’ and ‘Natural Light’.
While the natural elements of a place where you would go to relax are conspicuous by their absence, the spacious interiors makes for an alternative paradise. Much like a breath of fresh Himalayan air. As you enter the angular rooms with white walls, you feel that you are the lead character in a Science-Fiction movie; the year is 2100, a dwelling without windows, but perforated ceilings and living spaces without furniture are a simple, yet captivating move towards efficiency and an acutely reduced level of interactivity with the outside world, and reality for that matter.
The ceiling with a different height for different areas of the house eliminates the need for artificial ventilation. The simple erection of the wooden blocks which are of varying heights received a prompt approval from the Building Authority of Japan - which is not an easy one to get in Japan at the moment, given increasingly strict regulations. When the villa was ready, the owner found it to be everything he wanted and expressed his delight by saying “The high ceiling enriches the space. I am looking forward to living under the sky.”
The narrow entrance leads into the hall which is attached to a cubic closet on the left and a storage area on the right. The other hall area of the unique structure is vertically partitioned. Wooden planes that appear after regular gaps on the wall make for a dreamy dollhouse staircase floating in mid air. Much like 'a stairway to heaven', it leads you up to the guest room on the second level. The adjacent chamber on the ground level which is designed as a living-dining and kitchen area, is the largest in volume. Staying in line with the fundamentally clean theme of the interiors, this space has very little furnishing at all with only wardrobes on either side.
Looking down from the corridor, you’ll see the long passageway with rooms on each side. Both rooms open up with the promise of intrigue and wonder, given how far apart they are in terms of look and feel from every other room that you just saw. The corridor culminates into the master bedroom which has a study room at an elevated level. The other adjacent rooms comprise of mainly storage spaces and sanitary solutions. While it might, to the novice in art design, seem like a random juxtaposition of building blocks interconnected by passages, it is a mind-boggling utilization of limited space.
The acute, maze-like layout is almost disorienting at first, and one feels insignificant enclosed within these geometric extremes. Even though the house appears to have been built with the intent of staying aloof, it’s impossible for it to escape the gaze of onlookers as it crosses their line of vision.
Thereby, being more accessible to the world’s imagination than the owners would like. HouseMshines as a journey into a visionary idea of modern living and a marked departure from mundane notions of a typical ‘holiday home’.
Feeling completely rewarded for his efforts, the celebrated architect signs off saying, “This construction provides a peculiar spatial experience, meandering through the many secret rooms. It acts on the psychology of its resident. To my mind, this is a non-consummate living space that does not depend on any external context. It is a world named perfection. I think I have completely achieved one of the primitive objectives of architecture.” The true highlight of this stunning one-of-a-kind work of architecture is the uncompromising intellect which has been imbued in its design.With sunlight streaming through the ceilings and lighting up this cavernous yet sophisticated place. In creating a dynamic new dimension and illustration of paradise, House M personifies just that in the most unadulterated manner. Pure Living.
Text: Supriya Singh