Hohu House

KEN Architects
14. August 2019
Exterior viewed from the road on the south side.

A "floating" wall is the most distinctive feature in KEN Architects' design of a house in Hohu, Yamaguchi Prefecture. Far from arbitrary, the wall relates to the public/private nature of the garden behind it, as architect Kenichi Kohmura explains in response to a few of our questions.

Project: Hohu House, 2018
Location: Hohu, Yamaguchi, Japan
Client: Withheld
Architect: kenichi kohmura / KEN Architects
Contractor: Meiken Co., Ltd.
Main Construction: Wood 
Site Area: 774 m2 
Floor Area: 206 m2
Exterior viewed from the east: The entryway is in the center and the garage is on the right. 
Please give us an overview of the project.

The building site is located midway between the train station and the town’s famous Tenmangu shrine. Despite its downtown location just ten minutes on foot from the station, the lot is remarkably large. Another defining feature is the contrast between the busy pedestrian and automobile thoroughfare on the south side, and the sweeping views of Tenmangu and the mountains on the north. By locating the building in the center of the lot and creating very different gardens on the north and south sides, we attempted to connect the residence to the town in diverse ways. Specifically, the south side features a “floating” wall whose color harmonizes with the trees in the garden, evoking a feeling of openness toward both the dynamic townscape on the south side and the interior of the home.

The living room, with the terrace to the right.

The garden on the peaceful north side features a manmade hill in the garden that shortens the perceived distance to Tenmangu, drawing the gaze in that direction and creating continuity with the green mountains. We utilized a single-story layout with no solid interior partitions so that the residents could enjoy views of both gardens from anywhere in the home. A large roof consisting of a single plane, almost like an extension of the earth, unifies the interior spaces. Extending up and to the north, the roof points both the exterior of the house and the living room in the direction of Tenmangu, the symbol of Hofu.

The second living room, Japanese-style room, and bathroom viewed from the main living room, with the south garden in the distance.
What was most important for you during the design process?

That the gardens contribute not only to the interior spaces but also to the town itself. The client, a community leader with a deep affection for the area, is constantly thinking about how to contribute to the community. The greenery of the south-side garden overflows toward the road, benefitting the town in that way, and during festivals the gate can be opened so that the entryway serves as a public rest area welcoming in neighbors and friends. In this way, the design promotes connections with the community and its residents.

Japanese-style room and south garden viewed from the living room.
What challenges did you face in the project? How did you respond to them?

In order to not simply open the garden to the community but rather to ensure that the residents and passersby would both be able to enjoy the greenery without worrying about invasions of privacy, we installed a garden wall that appears to float. The question of how far above ground this wall should float and how tall it should be in order to maintain a balanced sense of openness was a key design consideration. During construction, we visited the site and made final decisions about the height of the wall and the location of plantings by testing out the impacts on line of site from both inside and outside the property.

 South garden viewed from the engawa, or veranda. 
How does this project fit into current architectural trends such as sustainability, social function, or technology?

I am always conscious of evoking the mood of Japanese architecture in my designs. By mood, I mean texture. Technological advances have led to the industrialization and increased construction efficiency of architecture, but I feel that in exchange we are losing the character of architectural spaces and the communities they comprise. Meanwhile, opportunities to experience two-dimensional spaces through computer graphics and the Internet are constantly increasing. Within this context, I believe that incorporating delicate textures that can only be experienced in the real world both increases the value of the architect and fosters craftspeople in our field.

Email interview conducted by Ryogo Utatsu, Japan-Architects.

Exterior facing the road. The color of the “floating” wall harmonizes with the plants in the garden, which overflow toward the road, evoking a sense of openness to the community. 
 Exterior viewed from the south garden.
 The living room and Japanese-style room viewed from the engawa, with Tenmangu shrine in the distance. 
View of Tenmangu from the living room, looking past the north garden. A man-made hill in the garden creates continuity with the mountains. 
The living room, with the terrace to the left.
 Plan and detailed section.
Bird’s-eye view.
View from the northeast, with north garden on the right.
View from the south road at night.

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