Wonder Twin Powers
Benjamin Budde -- Interior Design, 10/1/2009 12:00:00 AM
Tokyo's neighbor to the north, Saitama receives limited attention from the capital. This large, sprawling suburb, a city unto itself, is hardly the kind of place where you'd expect to find architecture that's one-of-a-kind—or, perhaps even more unlikely, two-of-a-kind.
Twin Bricks, a pair of linked residential buildings by Atelier Tekuto, might look familiar if you've ever encountered a structural system that the architecture firm developed for a stand-alone house dubbed Crystal Bricks, completed five years ago in Tokyo. "Traditionally, posts and beams hold up a building. Crystal Bricks uses nothing but glass blocks and steel," principal Yasuhiro Yamashita explains. "I proposed that idea to the owners of Twin Bricks but advised that using just glass would be somewhat expensive, so we looked for another solution."
Ultimately, Yamashita replaced some of the glass bricks with lightweight panels of autoclaved concrete. To keep the glass bricks from slipping out, Yamashita developed a composite of acrylic and rubber that was then tested at the University of Tokyo. Still, he points out, "The bricks and panels can be switched and changed around as you like. In this sense, you really have the façade libre discussed by Le Corbusier." (Even though the aesthetic is more reminiscent of Pierre Chareau's Maison de Verre in Paris.)
Glass bricks do not actually appear in the concrete street-facing component of Twin Bricks: the owners' own house. A garage takes up the ground level; parents live on the level, above, where the kitchen is; and on top are two children's rooms and a living-dining area. From here, a closed bridge connects to the glass-brick building, the top floor of which contains the front house's master suite.
The rest of the building is divided into rental apartments, offered in two configurations. This being Japan, both are diminutive: a 260-square-foot rectangle and a 300-square-foot L shape.
In the smaller apartments, an open-sided shower-toilet stall, accented in yellow, sits right in the middle of the plan, serving as a partition between the common area and the bare-bones sleeping quarters, just a place to roll out a futon. The larger apartments have open-fronted, blue-accented facilities housed in a box that juts out from the building's facade, saving space inside. Both setups are little more than a toilet facing a shower. For a sink, you have to walk over to the kitchen unit in the common area.
Asked if there is anything unusual in the design of the open showers and toilets, Yamashita answers only with another question: "Are they so unusual?" He concedes, however, that the facilities have subsequently been outfitted with white curtains.
Twin Bricks is a classic Atelier Tekuto project in the sense that this innovative firm often develops structural concepts to yield different visual results. In any given year, the firm may work on three or four. Yamashita says that this comes from his personal desire to realize spaces he has not yet seen.
At the same time, the project expresses his interest in harmony with nature. That notion, he continues, derives partly from his upbringing on the tropical islands of Amami. Hard to believe that Tokyo's urban chaos is a 30-minute bullet-train ride away.
Photography by Makoto Yoshida.
FROM FRONT INAX CORPORATION: TOILETS (BATHROOMS). SAN-EI FAUCET MFG CO.: SHOWER FITTINGS. ENDO LIGHTING CORP.: RECESSED CEILING FIXTURES (BATHROOMS), SCONCES (COMMON AREAS, SLEEPING QUARTERS). SHIGERU INDUSTRY CO.: KITCHEN UNIT (COMMON AREA). THROUGHOUT NIPPON ELECTRIC GLASS CO.: CUSTOM BLOCKS. SIPOREX: CUSTOM WALL PANELS. SANGETSU CO.: WALL COVERING, FLOORING. JUN SATO STRUCTURAL ENGINEERS: STRUCTURAL ENGINEER. EOS ENGINEERS STUDIO CO.: MEP. HOME BUILDER CO.: GENERAL CONTRACTOR.