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House in Kamiyamacho

House U

Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan
reinforced concrete + steel
Satoshi Okada
project team
Daikichi Honma, Tatsuya Terada,
Lisa Tomiyama
structual designer
S3 Associates Inc.
general contractor
photo credit:
Satoshi Shigeta

In the past decades a large number of high-rise apartments have been constructed in Tokyo: overlooking onto the city has been regarded as an emblem of a high social status.

However, the lethal 3.1 earthquake that shook Japan on March 11th 2011 emphasized the weakness of such slender structures: the fatal risk lies in the long period of vibration and consequently in the so called “long cycle vibration damages”.

Those whose concerns of safety and awareness of peril were raised by the quake gave up the high rise living pattern and established their own residences on the once blamed Tokyoite urban ground, encompassing its dense and disordered milieu. The owner of House U is among these few enlightened people. He requested a solid, robust house that could withstand horizontal forces, blasts and other urban disasters.


The site – 12-meter wide and 24-meter deep – is located in one of the most prestigious residential areas in Tokyo, Shibuya, in direct adjacency to several foreign embassies. The most distinctive troublesome feature of the lot is a tall apartment building just across the street, peeping into the designated land. As a response to the client's wishes and to the context, I conceived the house as encased in a three storeys high perimetral wall, as a contemporary urban fortification made of exposed concrete.

The conceptual scheme foresees an outer layer in precast concrete which encloses a see-through wall as the boundary between in and out.

In order to pursue the maximum indoor comfort, this design optimizes the allowed volume by observing human perception of spaces and its effect on inhabitants.

Since the upper two thirds of the perimetral wall is finished with a mild beige plaster, the residents' visual relationship with the outer sphere, beyond the glass, results strengthened. Thus the living space perceptibly expands up to the edges of the courtyard.

On lower third of the wall the structural concrete is bared: the juxtaposition of pale yellow above and dark grey below, along with the diverse textures of the two finishes, provides a scale to understand at a glance the building and its composition. I conveyed the court both as a sculpture garden that visitors would to cross to access the house and as a privileged point to appreciate the library and the garage facing onto it.


A narrow water blade creates a waterfall and flows into a shallow pool: it streams through the garden, passing underneath one of the smooth and dark concrete plates that leads to the outdoor stairs. The running water enriches this hard and dry garden with its enjoyable sound and perceptible humidity, as an introduction to the house itself.

The living room and the master bedroom are interlocked spaces and the latter overhangs directly onto the double height former. A thin composite floor slab -corrugated steel plate and finishes- is suspended above the dining area and the sleeping area is defined with a glass wall. Its intimacy is ensured by a vertical layer of louvres positioned along the outer curtain wall.


Text by Satoshi Okada

living living entrance entrance entrance entrance entrance entrance