The house is wrapped in opalescent glass and galvanized steel with a vein-like standing seam. From the lane, there are only glimpses of life through the house’s western translucent zoneand occasional small transparent panels. The client unwilling to expand the views out, as the house overlooks the Sony establishment where the husband works as a product designer. A vertical pavilion almost touching its easterly neighbour, the Small House expands and sways up from a small footprint and then returns almost to footprint size as it tapers to a roof terrace.
The design wascarefully thought through right down to the smallest detail, in order to respond to the client’s particular needs, to the extent that entrance’s slope inward perfectly accommodates the family’s silvergrey Honda van. To south and east the skin is uninterrupted, mostly opaque and conceals several service elements, as the owners were not concerned with having views from these facades. However it is madealmost entirely of tilted glass to the back and to the west, a landlocked lot belonging to an adjacent temple provides Sejima’s clients with views of green space and, metaphorically at least, some breathing space.
The building is structured about a steel frame with two inner spiral staircases; both are painted white. Each floor spreads from this trunk to rest on thin steel tubes slanted at varyingangles about the perimeter. The outer skin is simply laid against this cage. Ground level entry steps are formed from a folded plane of concrete, external metal rungs provide service access to the roof above. The overall effect is of an intricately detailed, truly urban dwelling. In Small House project, the architect wanted “to find what could be gained from the small size itself.”
A floor wasdedicated to each required function, and each was designed independently based on programmatic needs, proximity of nearby buildings, and views. The resulting profile is taught, elegant, and somewhat irregular. Kazuyo Sejima has divided the programme into four distinct elements, comprised of: terrace, a living and dining area, a bedroom, and a spare room. In a semi-basement is the parents’ roomwith storage recessed beneath the clerestory fenestration and a tiny lavatory.
Raised slightly above street level is the hall and guest bedroom. On the piano nobile, the broadest and tallest space, are kitchen, dining and living quarters which one shelf has an eye-catching display of recent Sony products. The house terminates in a bipartite zone with a comparatively grand bathroom and an enclosedroof terrace that looks across the empty lot to the towers of Shinjuku in the middle distance. The chamfered form of the Small House results partially from neighbourhood zoning and sunlight demands: it’s a miniature cousin to Hugh Ferriss’s 1920s images of metropolitan massing.
The canted sides are however determined more by Sejima’s strategy of stacking, a strategy shared by such currentvanguard projects as MVRDV’s Dutch Pavilion at the Hanover EXPO (AR September 2000). In Sejima’s work, the envelope becomes fabric stretching between differently-sized slabs. The design is responding to the local climate, which prone to chilly winters and warm, rainy summers. The Small House has only a few operable windows, mostly to the east.
It is expected to act as an inhabited flue, by drawing...