2017 AZ Awards Winner: Residential Architecture Multi-Unit

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With Tatsumi Apartment House, Hiroyuki Ito Architects have reinterpreted traditional Japanese architectural features as elegant solutions for living small.

Tatsumi Apartment House

Tokyo, Japan

Hiroyuki Ito Architects, Tokyo, Japan

Hiroyuki Ito

One of the most fascinating features of Tatsumi Apartment House can’t be seen from the street or even from inside. To build 10 storeys tall in the eastern part of Tokyo, local architect Hiroyuki Ito dug 30 metres below ground to secure its foundation to a series of nine concrete piles. He then anchored the foundation with steel cables that run even deeper, reaching 50 metres below the sidewalk. In the event of seismic action, tenants will experience the sway of their slim abode, but they can be assured it won’t topple or pancake.

“A sophisticated program that crams a lot into a very tiny space but does so with absolute, quiet elegance.” – Nina-Marie Lister

Ito also went to great lengths to block out city noise, choosing reinforced concrete for its sound absorbency, and to help buffer vibrations emanating from a nearby subway tunnel. But the building’s column-and-beam structure posed another obstacle internally: how to maximize each 34-square-metre floor plan.

Ito’s answer was to leave the six hefty structural columns exposed and carve out what he calls human-size niches – cozy alcoves tucked between vertical members that help form built-in furnishings and storage areas. In the lower level apartments, where the columns are thickest, the niches are deep enough to contain sleeping nooks. On the upper levels, the supports narrow, opening up the views through the floor-to-ceiling windows that are spanned by built-in benches.

Framed in light timber that matches the natural wood floors, these modest recesses are an endlessly poetic display of boxes nesting within boxes. Aficionados of Japanese design will recognize that some of these moves are straight out of the traditional architecture playbook, in which the floor is as likely a place to take a seat as a chair. In fact, the interiors feature another customary detail: a sunken floor area that is a few steps lower than the rest of the space – a gesture that naturally makes the apartments more flexible in how they are used. Tatsumi Apartment House has reinterpreted these timeless features and given them an elegant twist on living small.

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