Japanese House Designs of Shigeru Ban

Naked House and Other Architectural Interiors

Two children atop a container room, Inside the Shigeru Ban-Designed Naked House, 2000, Saitama, Japan
Naked House, 2000, Saitama, Japan.

Hiroyuki Hirai, Shigeru Ban Architects Courtesy Pritzkerprize.com (cropped)

Shigeru Ban (born August 5, 1957 in Tokyo, Japan) became a world-renowned architect after winning the profession's highest honor, the Pritzker Architecture Prize, in 2014. Ban began his career like many others — with private commissions designing residential properties. During these early years, the future Pritzker Laureate experimented with open spaces, prefabrication, modular designs, and industrial building materials.

In the Naked House, the people inside live in modules, rooms on casters that can be moved and placed within the home's space of 139 square meters (1,490 square feet). The interior has appropriately been described as "one unique large space."

Shigeru Ban works with nontraditional building materials, including paper tubes and cargo containers; he plays with interior spaces; he creates flexible, movable compartments; he embraces the challenges posed by the client and solves them with avant guarde ideas. It's a treat to explore Ban's early work, beginning with one of his most famous and influential home designs — Naked House.

Naked House, 2000

telephone wires from telephone poles going to horizontal oriented house in distance with clear paned facade
Naked House, 2000, Saitama, Japan. Hiroyuki Hirai, Shigeru Ban Architects courtesy Pritzkerprize.com (cropped)

Called the Naked House because of its transparency inside and out, the structure in Kawagoe, Saitama, Japan is described in the Phaidon Atlas as a "greenhouse-style building" having two stories but only one floor. The timber-framed structure is clad with industrial plastics and a roof of steel sheeting. The three-layered walls create an effect that "evokes the glowing light of shoji screens," according to the Pritzker Announcement. The walls are made of clear, corrugated fiber-reinforced plastic on the outside and nylon fabric on the inside — removable for laundering. Clear plastic bags of insulation (strings of foamed polyethylene) are between the layers.
"This sophisticated layered composition of ordinary materials used in a natural and efficient way, provides comfort, efficient environmental performance and simultaneously a sensual quality of light," the Pritzker Jury noted.

The interior design of Naked House brings together many of the experimental elements of the Japanese architect. The homeowner of this house wanted his "unified family" to be in a "shared atmosphere," without separation and seclusion, but with the option of private space for "individual activities."

Ban designed a house similar to the greenhouses that dotted the neighborhood. The interior space was light and wide open. And then the fun began.

Like the Japanese architects of the Metabolist Movement that came before him, Shigeru Ban designed flexible modules — four "personal rooms on casters." These small, adaptable units with sliding door-walls could be joined to create larger rooms. They could be rolled anywhere within the interior space, and also outside onto the terrace. 

"This house is," Ban commented, "indeed, a result of my vision of enjoyable and flexible living, which evolved from the client’s own vision toward a living and a family life."

The Pritzker Jury cited Naked House as an example of Ban's ability "to question the traditional notion of rooms and consequently domestic life, and simultaneously create a translucent, almost magical atmosphere."

Nine-Square Grid House, 1997

stark room with table and chairs, shiny surfaces with grooves, one wall missing overlooking mountains
Nine-Square Grid House, 1997, Kanagawa, Japan.

Hiroyuki Hirai, Shigeru Ban Architects Courtesy Pritzkerprize.com (cropped)

Shigeru Ban names his houses descriptively. The Nine-Square Grid House has a square open living space that can be equally divided into 9 square rooms. Notice the grooves on the floor and ceiling. What architect Shigeru Ban calls "sliding doors" can partition any of the open 1164 square feet (108 square meters). This method of "room making" is unlike Ban's 2000 Naked House, where he creates movable cubicle rooms within a space. Ban experimented widely with sliding walls not only in this design, but also in his 1992 PC Pile House and the 1997 Wall-less House.

"The spatial composition combines the systems of two walls and a Universal Floor," describes Ban. "These sliding doors allow a variety of spatial arrangements, adjustable to accommodate seasonal or functional needs."

Like many of Ban's private home designs, the integration of interior and exterior spaces is a very organic concept, like Frank Lloyd Wright's organic architecture. Also like Wright, Ban at times experimented with built-in and unorthodox furnishings. The paper-tube chairs seen here are similar to the chairs found in the 1995 Curtain Wall House.

Curtain Wall House, 1995

two-floored open room with curtains along two walls, white with brown table and chairs and brown wooden railings
Curtain Wall House, 1995, Tokyo, Japan.

Hiroyuki Hirai, Shigeru Ban Architects courtesy Pritzkerprize.com (cropped)

Is this a traditional Japanese house interior? To Pritzker Laureate Shigeru Ban, the two-story curtain wall embraces the traditions of fusuma doors, sudare panels, and sliding shoji screens.

Again, the interior of the Curtain Wall House is like many other experiments by Ban. Note the demarcation of the floor. The planked decking area is really an attached porch that can be isolated by panels that slide along the grooves separating the living area from the porch.

Interior and exterior space is mixed up because Ban has designed it so flexibly and organically. There is no "inside" nor "outside," no "interior" nor "exterior." The architecture is one organism. All space is livable and usable.

Ban continues his experimentation with furniture-making and industrial paper tubes. Look closely to see the plywood leg framing supporting rows of cardboard tubing that forms the seat and back of each chair. Similar furniture can be found in the 1997 Nine-Square Grid House. In 1998, Ban presented this paper-tube furniture as The Carta furniture series.

Outside the Curtain Wall

modern two-story house on piers, no walls on two sides, long white curtains and railings instead of walls
Curtain Wall House, 1995, Tokyo, Japan.

Hiroyuki Hirai, Shigeru Ban Architects Courtesy Pritzkerprize.com (cropped)

Architect Shigeru Ban breaks barriers in his house designs, including the presence of exterior walls. The Curtain Wall House in Tokyo is three-stories high, but the top two stories share a wall — a white, curtain wall. In the winter, glass doors can be slid in place for more protection.
When awarding Ban the Pritzker Architecture Prize, the Jury cited the Curtain Wall House as an example of one of Ban's themes — "the spatial continuity between interior and exterior spaces....tent-like movable curtains to easily link interior and exterior, yet provide privacy when needed."

Ban's whimsy is also expressed in this design, as the term "curtain wall" in architecture is a common expression for any non-structural cladding that hangs on a framework, especially a skyscraper; Ban has taken the term literally.

House of Double-Roof, 1993

lookinh down to the end of a stark, white room, two ceilings, open wall on the left with posts, overlooking woods
House of Double-Roof, 1993, Yamanashi, Japan.

Hiroyuki Hirai, Shigeru Ban Architects Courtesy Pritzkerprize.com (modified)

Note the interior living area within Shigeru Ban's House of Double-Roof — the ceiling and associated roof of this open-air box is NOT the ceiling and corrugated metal roof of the house itself. The two-roof system allows the weight of natural elements (e.g., snow load) to be separated by air from the roof and ceiling of the living space—all without having attic space.

"Since the ceiling is not suspended from the roof," says Ban, "it is freed of the deflection margin, and thus the ceiling becomes a second roof with a minimal load. In addition, the upper roof provides shelter against direct sun during the summer."

Unlike many of his later designs, in this 1993 house Ban uses exposed steel pipes, supporting the roof, that become part of the interior design itself. Compare this to the 1997 Nine-Square Grid House where two solid walls form the support.

Exterior photos of the House of Double-Roof show that the structure's top-level roof is the unifying element for all interior spaces. The blurring and unification of exterior and interior space are continuing experiments and themes in Ban's residential designs.

PC Pile House, 1992

long table and four chairs in stark room open on two sides overlooking mountains
PC Pile House, 1992, Shizuoka, Japan.

Hiroyuki Hirai, Shigeru Ban Architects Courtesy Pritzkerprize.com

The industrial design of the table and chairs in PC Pile House mimics the industrial design of the house itself — round pillar legs hold up a laminated table top, similar to the round pillars that hold up the floor and walls of the house itself.

The Japanese architect of this house and its furnishings, Shigeru Ban, describes the chairs as "L-shaped wooden units joined in a repeating pattern." The experimental furniture for the PC Pile House was later used for easily transportable, lightweight exhibition furniture that could be economically built from manufacturers' wood scrap. Similar furniture can be seen in the 1993 House of Double-Roof.

This house is one of Ban's earliest commissions, yet it features every element found in Shigeru Ban's later work — an open floor plan, movable exterior walls, and the blurring of interior and exterior space. The open nature of the design exposes its structural system — pairs of horizontal girders support a floor made of L-shaped wooden structures, each about 33 feet long. Precast concrete posts support the roof and floor slabs. Piles "penetrate through the building introducing a visual contrast to the white floors and ceiling, which frame the views of the landscape."
Pritzker Laureate Shigeru Ban has fused industrial design within the ancient Japanese landscape to create a new modernity in architecture.

Sources

  • The Hyatt Foundation. Announcement and Jury Citation. https://www.pritzkerprize.com/laureates/2014
  • The Phaidon Atlas. Naked House. http://phaidonatlas.com/building/naked-house/3385
  • Shigeru Ban Architects. Naked House. http://www.shigerubanarchitects.com/works/2000_naked-house/index.html; Nine-Square Grid House. http://www.shigerubanarchitects.com/works/1997_nine-square-grid-house/index.html; Curtain Wall House. http://www.shigerubanarchitects.com/works/1995_curtain-wall-house/index.html; House of Double Roof. http://www.shigerubanarchitects.com/works/1993_house-of-double-roof/index.html; PC Pile House. http://www.shigerubanarchitects.com/works/1992_pc-pile-house/index.html; L-Unit System. http://www.shigerubanarchitects.com/works/1993_l-unit-system/index.html.
  • Unattributed quotes are from the architect's website, Shigeru Ban Architects.