by Shivangi BuchMay 22, 2023
Offering a spatiotemporal setting, one that drives the narrative and at times also functions as a social commentary, tying themes of ecology, trauma, modernism, nature and futurism, the architecture of manga and anime operates at a fantastical plane, while staying rooted in contemporary times. As such the application of architecture in the ultra-creative universe of anime and manga plays into the trope of aesthetics, enabling the diversity and totality of the aesthetic experience one finds in nature. Furthering traditional Japanese concepts of wabi-sabi (the concept of transience and evolution of natural things and the beauty expressed through it) and iki (the concept of aestheticism relevant among the merchant class of Edo, referring to a refinement in dressing and mannerisms).
It is perhaps not an exaggeration, then, to say that architecture in manga and anime is a way of 'world-building,' where the duplicity of the real and fictional environment finds a middle ground. Drawing on this concept, Japanese architect Tan Yamanouchi along with AWGL, Tokyo, envisioned 'A Japanese Artist’s House' in Tokyo, Japan, as “a building that floats a few centimetres above our daily lives…to ensure that the dwelling is still tied to our tangible daily life but evokes a sense of fictional narrative.”
At a cursory glance, or perhaps, viewing it from the lens of floating above reality, an immediate reference to Howl’s Moving Castle by Hayao Miyazaki, where the wooden architecture of the castle literally moves from one place to another, isn’t a far stretch. While the Japanese Artist’s House does not offer physical transportation, it does disrupt the context in which it is set. The sloping facade design, contrasted with the wooden and concrete architecture of its surroundings, that is reminiscent of traditional Japanese architecture, makes the project unmissable.
Built in a narrow plot, over 74 sqm, in metropolitan Tokyo, the wooden house with its sloped entrance door feels like entering a portal, one that offers transcendence into a world of imagination and creativity. “The west facade facing the front road is designed as a warped seismic wall evoking earth rising dynamically from the ground, with a tunnel penetrating the wall leading to the entrance. The opening in the solid wall invites visitors to step out from their ordinary and into the extraordinary, evoking a scene in a movie," relays Yamanouchi.
Designed for an artist, her partner and their two owls, the residential space is intended to serve a three-fold function—first, accommodate the entire process of the artist’s work, from creative concept to completion, meetings, and giving media interviews. Second, be compact and not open to the outdoors too much and most importantly, spark inspiration for creativity.
Maximising space in the narrow and long plot, the project plan comprises an east area with three-floor levels at the rear of the site and the west area with two-floor levels to create a split-level floor plan. The architects further rearranged the sequence of alternating split levels and managed to create substantial differences in elevation.
A light court, approximately 1.2 metre wide with a height of 5.5 metre, is provided on the north side of the house, with the number of other openings limited as much as possible to create a contrast between light and dark in a ‘void’ spreading throughout the house like an amoeba. A stairway runs through the void space, filled with contrasts of high/low and light/dark, making a three-dimensional composition that evokes a narrative experienced through the body. "We designed a void with contrasts of high/low and light/dark to provide unenclosed yet defined areas, or what we call “ponds and banks,” that would allow for subtle and flexible use of space in a very compact dwelling,” notes Yamanouchi.
In Ikuhara's Adolescence of Utena, architecture becomes a physical manifestation of confusing emotions, brought to life by the constantly moving school building that encapsulates different architectural styles. In the Japanese Artist’s House, too, the various needs of an artist are manifested through the space.
The residential design is a blend of constructivism, seen in the arrangement of openings and storage which possesses a regularity that borders the mass produced, austere walls, adding a sense of movement to the internal volume. As well as deconstructivism, witnessed in the warped exterior form and dynamic use of cut outs to expand volume, characterising a displacement and deformation of surface and volume, in an unpredictable manner, challenging notions of functionality.
Perhaps, taking a note from American architect Louis Kahn’s idea that architecture is art you can walk around in and manga’s perception of this statement, that translates into moving a world of architecture inside another world, a fictional one, with fictional characters and lands, creating a nuanced world. Yamanouchi creates a world within this compact residential architecture, to encompass the varied functionalities the client desires. Like creativity which has no order to the chaos, the architecture of the residence almost seems like a playful spin on a house.
Project Name: A Japanese Artist’s House
Location: Tokyo, Japan
Area: 74 sqm
Year of Completion: 2023
Architect: Tan Yamanouchi and AWGL
Lead Architect: Tan Yamanouchi
Structural engineer: Yuko Mihara