Designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Toyo Ito, this vision of a future house has, among its many features, wide wooden doors with vertical blinds that let light and wind enter, instead of concrete walls that shut them out.
Upon entering, an irori Japanese-style hearth and an engawa veranda warmly welcome guests to make them feel at home.
Built on the theme “Beyond the Residence — Imagining a House for the Nostalgic Future,” this model house was produced by LIXIL Corp. and displayed at House Vision 2013 Tokyo Exhibition in March, a major exhibition on the future of housing in Japan.
“There will be the need for houses with no clear boundaries from inside to outside and from room to room,” Ito said. “What can we offer then?”
Human connections became more valuable than privacy after the Great East Japan Earthquake and the design of houses should change accordingly, Ito said in a video on the website of LIXIL, which manufactures building materials and housing equipment and provides related services.
“Houses until now have been closed boxes, with air conditioners and windows that can seal window frames tightly,” said Yasunobu Masu, a senior expert of the Multidisciplinary Research Institute of LIXIL. “From now on, human connections will be important. For example, the engawa allows for human connection with its openness.”
Doma Earthen Room
The most noticeable feature of the House of the Nostalgic Future is the doma Earthen Room, which is “inside” the house but can be also considered “outside.”
A doma is a room typically found in old-fashioned Japanese houses. It is behind a door, but outside an engawa porch and thus people wear shoes in a doma. The Earthen Room has the irori fireplace, a dining table surrounding it and chairs to help people make human connections.
Ito and LIXIL share the same philosophy that people crave these subtle human connections, especially after the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011.
Proving this shared philosophy, the two parties collaborated in “Minna no Ie (Home-for-All),” which are houses for human connections among people who live in temporary housing structures after their homes were washed away by tsunami after the quake. Some of them lost their loved ones, but the layout of temporary housing was not meant to encourage warm human interactions.
Thus Ito designed and built Home-for-All structures in several cities that were devastated by the tsunami. Home-for-All also uses many of LIXIL’s housing products and typically has an engawa and a common space for people to gather, just like the House for the Nostalgic Future.
The discussion process of building Home-for-All in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, helped the Japan Pavilion earn the Golden Lion for Best National Participation at the Venice Biennale, one of the most prestigious awards in architecture, in August 2012.
Nature in cities
To apply the Home-for-All concept to areas other than tsunami-hit Tohoku in a more complete form, Ito and LIXIL displayed the model room House for the Nostalgic Future at the 2013 exhibition. This house is made to be feasible in big cities or rural villages, as a standalone house or in a condominium.
The most external element of the House for the Nostalgic Future is the Passive Cooling Wall.
The wall is made of material that can absorb water well, so pouring water on it in the summer has the same effect as the Japanese tradition of uchimizu, or watering hot asphalt or concrete to lower the air temperature through evaporation.
Beyond the Passive Cooling Wall are the so-called Moveable Sliding Lever, or a collection of wooden doors that span the width of the house. These have the blinds that allow light and wind to enter while protecting from direct light.
The amount of light and wind can be adjusted by altering the angles of the blinds. They are vertical so that privacy protection is easily possible. Homeowners can build their relations with neighbors and protect their privacy at the same time.
Within is the Earthen Room. The mixture of modern and traditional means the Japanese hearth is paired with a dining table for people to have a meal seated together. There is also a garden for growing vegetables, an outdoor bench, the engawa veranda and a bath with cream-like bubbles, known as the Foam Spa.
Having a garden on the grounds is made possible with the concept of Earthen Room being partly an outdoor space. Taking a nap on the bench, one can benefit from the feel of fresh air.
A bath is normally in a private place of a house, but by bringing it to the half-outdoor open place, it gives the feeling of openness like an outdoor onsen hot spring. The creamy bubbles help conceal the body to make people feel comfortable taking a bath in the open space, and these bubbles also retain warmth better and release less steam than regular bubbles.
Further within is a living room with a compact kitchen, a bed and other furniture. Separating the living room from the rest of the space is SAMOS II, which are large glass windows that can tightly seal off the living room and optimize the room temperature.
Another “inside” room is a secluded alcove, surrounded by walls of tiles made of Ecocarat, a material that can maintain warmth through moisture absorption and release, rendering air-conditioning unnecessary. The secluded alcove also has advanced soundproofing technology.
LIXIL believes there is potential demand in both urban and rural areas for houses featuring the concept of the House for the Nostalgic Future.
For example, LIXIL sometimes renovates houses in which a typical four-person family used to live and turns it into housing for one or two people. Such customers prefer to place a kitchen in the center for convenience of human interaction.
Also, customers increasingly prefer the idea of bringing nature into their lives, he said, so the House for the Nostalgic Future has easy access to the outdoors.
The House for the Nostalgic Future can be in a condominium as well as a standalone house on land.
“Demand is potentially everywhere, from anyone,” Masu said. “Customers can be elderly or young, they can live in urban or rural areas. The important thing is that we can provide housing products and a living environment in line with their lifestyle. That’s what we as a product maker can do.”
Ito also agrees it is possible to enjoy life with nature in the center of a city or in a condominium. It is made possible with LIXIL’s innovative product lineup.
“LIXIL makes various elements for the living environment but does not sell a fixed form,” Ito said. “Thus LIXIL products can be freely incorporated and provide for free combinations of products.”
House Vision is a platform in which architects, designers and other related people and companies propose new ways Japanese will live beyond their current living environment. House Vision was initiated by designer Kenya Hara in 2010 and the March exhibition was the first one ever held. LIXIL and Ito’s “Beyond the Residence — Imagining a House for the Nostalgic Future” was one of the seven exhibits.
The exhibition was held in Tokyo from March 2 to 24 and had some seminars, including a talk session between Hara, LIXIL President Yoshiaki Fujimori and Sadao Tsuchiya, an advisor to House Vision.