A tree grows in Tokyo
Sheila Kim -- Interior Design, 6/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
Outside Tokyo's frenetic, neon-lit center is a tranquil residential district called Hanegi Forest. Business executives and their families particularly love the area for its grove of deciduous trees, which have grown there for at least a century. When a property owner recently announced a plan to develop housing in Hanegi Forest, possibly threatening the trees' existence, he faced protest from local residents.
Fortunately for both sides, Shigeru Ban, Architects, was chosen for the project. Not only is principal Shigeru Ban one of Japan's preeminent architects, but he's furthermore a master in the art of conflict resolution. He proposed a cost-efficient housing design that didn't sacrifice a single tree—and included an apartment for himself among the 11 town-house triplexes.
The complex's triangular steel framework allowed the architect to build the units around oval wells. The wells measure 30 feet across at their longest point, and trees grow through these openings, the leafy branches providing energy-efficient cooling power in the summertime. (Bare branches let the warm sun shine through in winter.)
Apartment size and layout vary depending on tree positions, but architectural styling and finishes are uniform. Ecologically minded in concept rather than details, Ban specified vinyl for ground-level flooring, cherry-wood for the upper two levels, and kitchens with ceramic-tile backsplashes and white plastic-laminate countertops. Walls are painted white, support columns gray. "I always use those two colors, because neither clashes with natural materials," explains Ban.
He furnished his own apartment with several prototypes of his Capellini designs based on recycled-paper tubes—a sustainable concept he developed when building temporary housing for the victims of the 1995 earthquake in Hanshin. A glass-topped table and plywood chairs appear in the second-level living space. A table topped with laminated plywood features larger, longer paper tubes as primary legs; when Ban entertains Japanese guests who prefer to sit on the floor, the paper-tube legs detach to reveal shorter, thinner plywood legs inside.
On the top level of all units, a bedroom overlooks the living space through a horizontal interior window outfitted with a sliding rice-paper screen. Below the window, on the bedroom side, Ban installed birch built-in storage.
Both the bedroom and the living space face the oval wells surrounding the trees—and a neighbor's apartment opposite. Ban responded with a double-height wall of frosted-glass blocks, which cost less than curved glass and add privacy into the bargain. So do the steel-framed canvas screens that partition the shared terrace on each unit's second level. Residents simply open a sliding glass door to commune, in shared solitude, with their own natural microcosm.