Moriyama House (2005) is a perfect example of a home designed to represent a community, while at the same time connecting the inside and outside. The building is located in Kamata, Tokyo and the brainchild of Ryue Nishizawa of Pritzker Prize-winning architectural firm SANAA.
The multi-building residence consists of ten separate buildings, ranging from 1 to 3 stories high, while each room is a building by itself. Even the bathroom is a separate building. Moriyama House is gritty and far from glamorous. The reality of tenants living in such a small space can easily attract someone’s curiosity.
Thin walls & choosing different rooms
All of the steel walls are as thin as possible. This is aimed at maximizing the interior space. When a client is going to rent the house, he or she is given a chance to choose which one of the buildings is an excellent fit to be a residential or a rental room. The client may switch across a couple of living and dining rooms. The client can also change among several living and dining rooms or at the same time, using several rooms at a time. This entirely depends on the requirements and availability.
Private vs. Public
It is easy to notice the small gardens and pathways between the buildings. The paths are open to the streets and at the same time, connect different structures. The whole idea here was to blur the boundaries in what people perceive as private and public property.
The units & Spaces
In the house, you will quickly notice two transparent and two opaque walls that hosts a bathtub and a sink. The building sees three living spaces that are stacked one on top of the other. The units here range from the slender three-floor tower down to a scale of a body. The smallest building/room is the washroom.
The spaces between the boxes are vital. Often they are as occupied as the boxes themselves. Though, there is some genuine sense of space here and comfort. There are a couple of activities that fill the spaces in between with the greenery occupying the area too. The rooftops are also highly busy. They feature a table and a chair that sits on medium-sized elements. There is a ladder glimpsed through a window which leads to the roof of the tallest building.
Difference to Sou Fujimoto’s N House
Although Moriyama House is facing close competition from Fujimoto’s N House1, it is the most abstractly daring. Both the Moriyama and the Fujimoto Houses melt into their immediate environments. Nishizawa made this building different through transparency and material choices. The architect disaggregates this building into multiple pieces, which makes it feel fused into the city surrounding it. This makes Moriyama House shoot discreetly from the streets of Kamata. It’s very easy to run past the house without noticing it.
If you take a step back, the district of Kamata is vivacious. It’s relatively dense and built-up, though, the area falls away quickly into something more suburban. Some people previously heard about Kamata via David Peace’s brilliant novel Tokyo Year Zero2.
3-chōme-21 Nishikamata, Ota City, Tōkyō-to 144-0051, Japan
5 min walk from Hasunuma Station (Exit 2)
15 min walk from Kamata Station (West Exit)
You may end up getting a chair with notices buoyed on them. They show that you are not supposed to take photos of this private area. You may find other notes, asking you not to walk in. The principles of transparency are challenging to manage. This house is already famous to such an extent that many tourists are flocking in daily. If there were no foreign tourists, nobody would likely bother putting up the notices. Japanese culture has a clear division of public and private.
The Moriyama House is extraordinary yet very humble. It stands in stark contrast to the jumble of streets around it which are highly ordered and complex in the Japanese way. Its beauty is not easy to spot at first because it easily blends in. It’s just a cluster of ten discrete units. Though, its white cubes lift it gently from the streets around it, making it an iconic and breathtaking view.
In its physical appearance, the house is small but sophisticated. The garden spaces threaded in-between provide no formal borders to the streets. At night, light bounces from the large glass plate windows and walls. The trees and bushes offset and blur the edges of the boxes. These effects make the whole building seem very appealing.
Moriyama House is a highly influential building. It epitomizes the most exciting forms of urban architecture, urbanism, or housing. Ryue Nishizawa, the architect of the building, said that the building is public and private, individual and collective, personal and shared. All these are a part of a more complex range.
All images: Iwan Baan/iwan.com for Ryue Nishizawa/sanaa.co.jp unless otherwise noted.
- Sou Fujimoto’s cloud-like Serpentine Pavilion: What makes it special?
- Sou Fujimoto Architects’ unique House N in Japan