The House that Wasn’t There: Sou Fujimoto’s House NA
May 10, 2012
House NA by Sou Fujimoto; All photos: Iwan Baan
Of all contemporary Japanese architects, Sou Fujimoto’s star perhaps shines brightest, with work that is consistently intelligent, challenging, and different–the latter being the most salient of distinctions in a relatively homogeneous architectural culture like Japan’s. In the last decade, Fujimoto’s projects have demonstrated an aesthetic diversity and a propensity for experimentation, manifested by works as programmatically divergent and spatially innovative as the Musashino Art University library, House N, and the ‘21st Century Oasis“. What does seem to unify Fujimoto’s architecture is the blatant disregard, even intolerance, of any structural expression, such as the monumental or exhibitionist manner employed by the Brutalists, Zoom, and High-Tech architects of the last century. Instead, the projects approach a structural ambiguity that is at once architecturally present and nonpresent, a spatial condition which finds its apotheosis in Fujimoto’s House NA–arguably the architect’s finest work–both a highly compact housing model and a dazzling sectional study of Rudolphian excess. Continue.
In Fujimoto’s hands, the cozy, small-plot Japanese home is rendered nearly uninhabitable, with little to no evident electrical and plumbing systems, yet wrapped in an impressively diaphanous package that is undeniably seductive. Almost all of the house’s surfaces are glazed, exposing its inhabitants to the street who must appear to neighbors like lab rats feeling their way through the blank, totalizing environment. A white steel frame supports 21 unnervingly thin floorplates, which create a sectional jigsaw of the dom-ino precedent that distorts the house’s scale and that of the people inside (or on) it.
Fujimoto describes the structure as possessing a “unity of separation and coherence”, in that the house is both a large room and a series of diminutive rooms, interconnected yet autonomous cloisters separated by floor gaps and vertiginous staircases that would test the resolve of any mountain climber. It was the desire of the clients to live “as nomads in their own home”, a wish the architect has giddily obliged. Fujimoto likens the experience of moving within the house to living in a tree; thankfully, he shied away from any mimetic representation implied in the metaphor, choosing instead an abstract, modular-like structure that revels in its idiosyncrasies.