In close-knit neighbourhoods, one often encounters stories of a space or a home that was a central element in the daily lives of everyone there. The architecture of these spaces becomes an integral part of how they are remembered and revisited over time. This was the case with a hundred-year-old house in this neighbourhood in Kyoto, Japan. The residential building has been inherited and lived in by different generations, each adding their mark to the home. Recently restored by Tokyo-based Mandai Architects, the project was meant to capture a ‘sense of publicness’ within its architecture.
The idea of ‘publicness’ in a residential project might seem like a contradiction. In many ways it is. However, when one considers how long the structure has been a part of the neighbourhood’s builtscape, one can see the architecture’s narrative value not only to the people but also to the houses surrounding it. The original site consists of a lush garden that had been consistently maintained over the years, with a two-story Japanese style house located in the centre. Originally designed within the scope of traditional Japanese architecture, the home was adapted during different periods of its long life.
Filled with a curious sense of community, this private property has an essence of belonging to the neighbourhood. The Japanese studio hoped to imbibe the home with the elements of contemporary living while preserving this particular aspect of the building’s history. In its new avatar, the structure is designed for a retired couple. The clients, however, wanted the home to continue being a gathering spot for the neighbourhood. The original design was open and welcoming the restoration, and expansion was designed to retain that.
Initially, the lean-to extensions were added to the original house to accommodate changes in the occupant’s lifestyle. Mandai Architects chose to use this as a design cue and construct five new wooden lean-to spaces. In plan, this generated a pinwheel-like design with a two-storey main house in the centre with fine spokes spinning out from it. Each lean-to is constructed in correspondence to its setting with the surrounding garden.
The living room lean-to is surrounded by osmanthus trees, while the kitchen lean-to has a high ceiling that allows the sunlight to enter the room, and the tea room is located next to the Japanese maples. The remaining two lean-tos combine utilities into their spatial design. The bathroom is designed and located to allow a soft light in, while the study also has its own staircase and is filled with light with a view of the starry sky at night. These five lean-to spaces, while serving as an interface connecting the old house to the garden, become vistas to experience unique aspects of landscape design.
The lean-to also acts as additional support to the existing main house, like flying buttresses in old Gothic churches. This aids in making the old structure seismic resistant. While the lean-to extensions are an additional element, they fragment the façade of the residential architecture of the Japanese home. This fragmentation creates a new sense of openness and connections. The renovation is envisioned as an evolution of the home rather than a reimagination of it.
The old staircase, old porch, and furniture within the house play with the boundaries between the existing and new construction. In order to present a more blurred boundary, materials from the structure such as old fittings, alcove posts, and lighting are used in the lean-to structures. This is also incorporated in the landscape design of the garden, where existing garden stones and newly planted trees created a new experience in what is an old space. The architecture, landscape design and furniture design are all given equal importance and aid in unfolding the narrative of the hundred-year-old plot.
In a statement, the studio explained, “An old azalea tree stands beyond the new garden seen through the wooden fittings of the old children’s room that has been installed in the new lean-to space that one arrives at when entering through the existing gate. In doing so, I believe that new points of contact will be generated in response to the impressions that various people had towards this house, thus giving rise to a new kind of open house.”
Name: Shiiba House
Location: Kyoto, Japan
Year of completion: 2021
Architect: Mandai Architects
Lead Architect: Motosuke Mansai
Design Team: Masashi Itaya
Structural engineer: Kenichi Inoue