written by:
photos by:
October 18, 2013
Originally published in Small Spaces Big Ideas
as
Slice of Light
In Tokyo, Japan, where the houses are crammed cheek by jowl, two old friends from architecture school have created a 793-square-foot home out of canted concrete boxes.
open plan concrete home japan exterior
After purchasing a thin, L-shaped lot in Tokyo, Tamotsu Nakada asked architect and friend Koji Tsutsui to create an open-plan concrete home to fit the site.
Photo by 
1 / 7
open plan concrete home in japan bathroom
Inside, the bottom floor contains the bedroom, off of which is the bathroom, with a tub from Kaldewei and a Duravit sink.
Photo by 
2 / 7
open plan concrete home in japan bedroom
“We adjusted the combinations to see what kinds of spaces they created in relationship to the site and the surrounding buildings,” his associate Satoshi Ohkami explains.
Photo by 
3 / 7
open plan concrete home in japan staircase
The staircase leads to the living area upstairs.
Photo by 
4 / 7
open plan concrete home in japan entryway
Tsutsui continued the Oregon pine from the floor to the steel-reinforced cantilevered staircase, which appears to float above the floor.
Photo by 
5 / 7
open plan home in japan skylight
Just above the small entrance vestibule, he incorporated a skylight, which brightens the space and allows a peek at the apex of the adjacent roof’s concrete overhang.
Photo by 
6 / 7
open plan concrete home in japan
Nakada works from an Alvar Aalto table in the living and dining area, adjacent to the kitchen. He saved on some elements, such as the plywood cabinetry, and splurged on others, such as the Finn Juhl chairs and Vilhelm Lauritzen lamp. A skylight beneath the angled roof allows in a sliver of constantly changing light.
Photo by 
7 / 7
open plan concrete home japan exterior
After purchasing a thin, L-shaped lot in Tokyo, Tamotsu Nakada asked architect and friend Koji Tsutsui to create an open-plan concrete home to fit the site. Image courtesy of Iwan Baan .
Project 
Bent House
Architect 

Tamotsu Nakada needn’t do much to reach his neighbors: He can simply extend his arm and touch two of their houses, each of which is a mere foot from his property line, from his small terrace. “Having more light and air was important to me,” says Nakada. But when Tokyo houses are packed in like commuters during rush hour, you need a smarter brand of density.

Enter Nakada’s friend Koji Tsutsui, an architect based in the San Francisco Bay Area and in Tokyo. Designing around the property’s obstacles, Tsutsui devised a bent roof that provides an expansive sense of space for the 793-square-foot house he created for the 935-square-foot lot. By diagonally chopping off the downslope of a typical pitched roof, Tsutsui allowed more of the sun’s rays to penetrate the interiors of his so-called Bent House. The resulting form blends in with the pitched rooflines of the neighborhood while simultaneously breaking from the vernacular with its bold, sculptural profile. The roofline serves another function, shading a terrace that provides the luxury of outdoor living space within this staggeringly tight urban environment.

open plan concrete home in japan staircase
The staircase leads to the living area upstairs. Image courtesy of Iwan Baan .
Tsutsui and Nakada met in the early ’90s while studying architecture at the University of Tokyo. Nakada went on to become an advertising copywriter, and Tsutsui got a job with the Pritzker Prize–winning architect Tadao Ando, whose concrete houses are known for their simplicity and engagement with the elements. “He is one of the architects I respect the most,” Nakada says of Ando. “I dreamed of creating a concrete house like his.”

That opportunity came in 2010, after Nakada had spent eight years in a dark 400-square-foot apartment. A nearby property had been subdivided, and the resulting four lots were available, each shaped like a flag on a flagpole. Nakada contacted Tsutsui, who by then had his own firm and was dividing his time between Tokyo and the Bay Area—where he had become the Joseph Esherick Visiting Associate Professor of Practice at the University of California, Berkeley, College of Environmental Design. Unsurprisingly, when it comes to design, the former schoolmates are kindred spirits.

open plan concrete home in japan bedroom
“We adjusted the combinations to see what kinds of spaces they created in relationship to the site and the surrounding buildings,” his associate Satoshi Ohkami explains. Image courtesy of Iwan Baan .
“We already shared the same aesthetic,” says Nakada, sitting with Tsutsui in the 292-square-foot, sun-filled living-dining area of his home one recent afternoon. “His work always has a specific concept. He’s good at minimal houses. And he knows how powerful simplicity can be.”

Tsutsui has been experimenting with the idea of houses as an arrangement of boxes since starting his own firm in 2004. “The way boxes come together is really interesting to me,” says the architect, who creates geometric models from Styrofoam and museum board to help him conceptualize spaces. “We adjusted the combinations to see what kinds of spaces they created in relationship to the site and the surrounding buildings,” his associate Satoshi Ohkami explains. After trying out some 20 combinations, they finally transferred the selected design to a computer.

Tsutsui describes the arrangement of this house as a collection of light wells: “The main box brings light into the main space upstairs; the other, small ones bring light into the first floor.”

The main volume of the house, with its bent roof and two skylights, consists of the kitchen and living-dining area, with a bedroom and bathroom beneath it. The second box holds the entry, with another bent roof that harvests sunshine for the first-floor hallway while providing protection from rain at the front door. The third brings the sun’s rays to the first-floor study.

If Tsutsui gave his friend the house of his dreams, he did it by inviting heavenly light from above into an earthbound, unadorned piece of architecture. Where bolder statements have been made, they appear with an evenhanded elegance reminiscent of Tsutsui’s mentor. The sole stairway consists simply of Oregon pine timbers cantilevering out from a wall (the planks are reinforced with steel). On the lower level, the bedroom sets itself apart from the study and bathroom with a plywood wall that stops just below the ceiling, creating a box within a box and a sense of openness.

open plan concrete home in japan
Nakada works from an Alvar Aalto table in the living and dining area, adjacent to the kitchen. He saved on some elements, such as the plywood cabinetry, and splurged on others, such as the Finn Juhl chairs and Vilhelm Lauritzen lamp. A skylight beneath the angled roof allows in a sliver of constantly changing light. Image courtesy of Iwan Baan .
Though Nakada found ways to save money on this project—the plywood cabinets in the kitchen are one example—he didn’t scrimp on everything: Splurges include the foot-wide Oregon pine flooring used throughout and a Duravit sink for the bathroom.

Nakada kept the furnishings minimal and minimalist. The main living area contains little more than Finn Juhl chairs, a vintage Alvar Aalto dining table, and a vintage Radiohus pendant lamp by Vilhelm Lauritzen. When Nakada works at home, he spends most of his time in this room, where light pours in from the south-facing bent roof and the skylights atop the 12-foot ceiling.

From his terrace, Nakada’s proximity to the adjacent roof has no effect on his sunny outlook. Living alone in a city where 300-square-foot studios are the norm, all this light and air is a luxury. “Within what looks like a closed concrete box, I can feel the four seasons,” says Nakada. “If it’s sunny, I go outdoors to feel the wind.”

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

45 dva 2270 persp1 cmyk 0
The prospect of retirement doesn’t just signal the end of a career; it offers the chance to recalibrate and re-prioritize in life.
July 25, 2016
18
You don’t have to choose between sustainable energy and curb appeal.
July 19, 2016
jakemagnus queensland 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
July 06, 2016
content delzresidence 013 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 29, 2016
abc malacari marwick stair 01 0
A simple set of stairs is a remodel’s backbone.
June 28, 2016
Design Award of Excellence winner Mellon Square.
Docomomo US announces the winners of this year's Modernism in America Awards. Each project showcases exemplary modern restoration techniques, practices, and ideas.
June 27, 2016
monogram dwell sf 039 1
After last year’s collaboration, we were excited to team up with Monogram again for the 2016 Monogram Modern Home Tour.
June 27, 2016
switch over chicago smart renovation penthouse deck smar green ball lamps quinze milan lounge furniture garapa hardwood
A strategic rewire enhances a spec house’s gut renovation.
June 26, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent coralie gourguechon treviso italy cphotos by coralie gourguechon co produced by isdat planche anatomique de haut parleur1
Coralie Gourguechon's paper objects will make you see technology in a whole new way.
June 26, 2016
green machine smart home aspen colorado facade yard bocci deck patio savant
Smart technology helps a house in Aspen, Colorado, stay on its sustainable course.
June 25, 2016
Compact Aglol 11 television plastic brionvega.
The aesthetic appeal of personal electronics has long fueled consumer interest. A new industrial design book celebrates devices that broke the mold.
June 25, 2016
modern backyard deck ipe wood
An angled deck transforms a backyard in Menlo Park, California, into a welcoming gathering spot.
June 24, 2016
dscf5485 1
Today, we kicked off this year’s annual Dwell on Design at the LA Convention Center, which will continue through Sunday, June 26th. Though we’ve been hosting this extensive event for years, this time around is particularly special.
June 24, 2016
under the radar renovation napa
Two designers restore a low-slung midcentury gem in Napa, California, by an unsung Bay Area modernist.
June 24, 2016
Exterior of Huneeus/Sugar Bowl Home.
San Francisco–based designer Maca Huneeus created her family’s weekend retreat near Lake Tahoe with a relaxed, sophisticated sensibility.
June 24, 2016
light and shadow bathroom walnut storage units corian counter vola faucet
A Toronto couple remodel their home with a special emphasis on a spacious kitchen and a material-rich bathroom.
June 24, 2016
Affordable home in Kansas City living room
In Kansas City, an architecture studio designs an adaptable house for a musician on a budget.
June 23, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment oak vertical slats office
By straightening angles, installing windows, and adding vertical accents, architect Aaron Ritenour brought light and order to an irregularly shaped apartment in the heart of Athens, Greece.
June 23, 2016
kitchen confidential tiles custom cabinetry oak veneer timber house
A modest kitchen addition to a couple’s cottage outside of Brisbane proves that one 376-square-foot room can revive an entire home.
June 23, 2016
feldman architecture 0
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 22, 2016
Blackened timber Dutch home
A modern dwelling replaces a fallen farmhouse.
June 22, 2016
hillcrest house interior kitchen 3
Seeking an escape from bustling city life, a Manhattan couple embarks on a renovation in the verdant Hudson Valley.
June 22, 2016
angular
Atelier Moderno renovated an old industrial building to create a luminous, modern home.
June 21, 2016
San Francisco floating home exterior
Anchored in a small San Francisco canal, this floating home takes its cues from a classic city habitat.
June 21, 2016
modern renovation addition solar powered scotland facade steel balcony
From the bones of a neglected farmstead in rural Scotland emerges a low-impact, solar-powered home that’s all about working with what was already there.
June 21, 2016
up in the air small space new zealand facade corrugated metal cladding
An architect with a taste for unconventional living spaces creates a small house at lofty heights with a starring view.
June 21, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent marjan van aubel london cwai ming ng current window
Marjan Van Aubel makes technology a little more natural.
June 21, 2016
urban pastoral brooklyn family home facade steel cypress double
Building on the site of a former one-car garage, an architect creates his family’s home in an evolving neighborhood of Brooklyn.
June 20, 2016
Modern Brooklyn backyard studio with plexiglass skylight, green roof, and cedar cladding facade
In a Brooklyn backyard, an off-duty architect builds a structure that tests his attention to the little things.
June 20, 2016
the outer limits paris prefab home living area vertigo lamp constance guisset gijs bakker strip tablemetal panels
In the suburbs of Paris, an architect with an eco-friendly practice doesn’t let tradition stand in the way of innovation.
June 20, 2016