Chiba University architecture students have built the Omotenashi House as the sole Japanese entrant to the 2012 European Solar Decathlon. Constructed in only a fortnight, the house is impressing crowds with its obvious respect for Japanese tradition, a conscious effort to integrate with its natural surrounding, and of course, some serious hi-tech gadgetry! The design of the house remains simple, but it is filled to the brim with wonderful ideas that make the structure the classic sum of all its parts.
The simple but elegant design of the exterior is mirrored inside, providing a comfortable and airy living area. The upgraded tatami mats (seen above) double as seating and bedding if required. As mentioned in our preview article, these pieces can aid in cooling the interior without relying on expensive air conditioning. There is plenty of natural light, but the ventilation through the roof allied with the green curtain surrounding the inner hub mean that the living area maintains a constant, comfortable temperature.
Returning to outside of the building, the solar hot water heating system is neatly positioned at the front of the house. The house is oriented in a southerly direction and the water slowly runs through a coiled pipe that is naturally heated by the sun. Foregoing the traditional lawn, the designers have put a paddy field in place so that residents are provided with up to half a years supply of rice. Moreover, the paddy field itself acts as a natural water filter for the grey water recycling system.
No other house in the competition has considered their residents requirements to quite this degree, and in our opinion the paddy field replacing the lawn is an idea that makes a lot of sense. The Omotenashi House is also surrounded by greenery with a wide array of native plants. Obviously, the choice of plants would be up to you, but they function as both an aesthetic and practical addition to the building.
On following the ramp up to the house itself, one encounters the living green curtain that provides shade and privacy to the interior. The veranda-like structure encasing the inner hub of the house has wires connecting to the roof and the floor that support climbing plants. The idea here is to bring practicality and beauty together, allowing residents to produce their own fragrant fruit and vegetables using an architectural ornament.
Inside the living curtain, next to one of the entrances, is a greenhouse. Here you can grow plants under almost any condition, and water is provided for by the grey water recycled from the sink and various kitchen appliances.
The interior is well designed and utilizes modern appliances that are designed for maximum energy efficiency. The kitchen area provides ample cooking space, again mixing tradition with modernity, and one can find details such as ornamental Japanese green tea pots sitting next to state of the art equipment. The theme of showing a respect for Japanese culture, while glimpsing towards the future, permeates the entire home.
One interesting addition to the kitchen area is a vegetable propagator that provides the perfect growing conditions for carrots and onions — although any root vegetable can grow in there. The propagator utilizes LED lights to promote vegetable growth throughout year, again combining interesting aesthetics with the more practical purpose of food production.
Another innovative design found in the home was a plant container that double as a LED lantern. Several can be found inside, and they provide support for plants and light for the living area at night. They are also movable, so if you happen to be outside on the patio, you can easily take an unobtrusive light source with you.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a design fit for the Japanese without a bit of hi-tech wizardry! The computer monitored temperature controls and the battery storage from the rooftop solar panels (that are indistinguishable from normal roof tiles) are well hidden from view, but easily accessible to the residents. The integrated software is easy to use, ensuring that residents achieve optimum energy efficiency.
By contrast, the far side of the building has incorporated a zen-like calm, with a walkway leading to a classic Japanese pool. One could imagine this becoming home to a few Koi, providing a thoroughly relaxing escape that is within reach.
The bathroom is functional, equipped with a shower, sink and toilet. The bathroom itself is tucked away at the side of the building and is linked to the water recycling system where appropriate.
“Omotenashi” roughly translates to “thoughtfully and sincerely conveying a feeling of consideration to those who you encounter”. In our opinion the thought has been well-integrated into the design.