Westerners often look on in bewilderment at Japanese architectural design. The West is more accustomed to the idea that worth runs parallel to pageantry and plethora, to the point where it is assumed that as one accumulates wealth, the physical world around them undergoes a kind of metamorphosis – the number of rooms in their house multiply, hallways stretch out until the vanishing point, and living rooms swell into yawning spaces of impossible size. But this trend can detract from the pleasure of living in such an environment, with function being lost in the pursuit of grandeur, making the end result the architectural equivalent of a Rube Goldberg device with thousands of unnecessary independent parts, haphazardly working together to accomplish the single task of creating a home.
However, many Japanese architects have approached home design from the complete opposite direction. Instead of turning their eyes outwards to the vastness of space, they instead opt to focus inward, looking at home design through a microscope to achieve serene and subtle living environments that are difficult for Western eyes to appreciate at first glance.
Takaharu Tezuka is one such architect, and he holds a profound belief in the concept of design with a surgical knife rather than a hacksaw, and the importance of creating functional homes uniquely catered to the residents living within. “Everything we design is about human activity,” Tezuka says. “We are interested in what people want to do in our building.”
Tezuka says that this idea is partly based off of a philosophy by psychologist James Gibson called “affordance.” According to affordance theory, every object contains a specific functional purpose. “For instance,” explains Tezuka, “a chair is for people to sit in, while a ladder allows you to climb. Everything has a kind of action and emotion and so our design is about what people want to do in their home.”
To give an example of how he has instilled this concept into his design, he refers to one of his firm’s most famous projects – Roof House. Tezuka says that he was commissioned to design a home for a family that particularly enjoyed relaxing on their roof. Working from this simple starting point, he designed the home so that every room has a skylight through which one can access the roof by way of a ladder. Tezuka says this is perhaps the best and most basic example of his design philosophy – a design which appears so simple, but yet which contains many subtleties that one may not immediately notice.