Soil House by ADX is propped on trapezoidal mounds of surplus soil from site

Located in Fukushima, Japan, the Soil House by ADX evokes a natural connection and the childhood joy of playing with sand for a client displaced by the 2011 earthquake.

by Anmol AhujaPublished on : Jun 26, 2021

Residences with a history dictated either by the conditions on site or the owners of the property, a distinctive narrative that guides everything from the conception of the design to its construction and final form, feel invariably warmer, more personal: strongly evocative of the very primeval notion of a home. Japanese architecture particularly has a strong aspect of nature and ancestry sewn into the residential landscape of the island nation, and such “stories” can be found influencing the architecture of many modern residences in the already rich cultural context of Japan, complete with the effervescent principles of minimalism and Wabi-sabi. This unique residence, dubbed the Soil House, in Minamisōma city in the Fukushima prefecture by local practice ADX is a near-complete embodiment of the kind of residential architecture I am talking about, merging a number of appealing aspects typical to Japanese design and architecture, shunning material and stylistic embellishments, and binding them together with an inimitably personal narrative.

  • Aerial view of the construction process of the trapezoidal walls of the single-storey house | Soil House | ADX Japan | STIRworld
    Aerial view of the construction process of the trapezoidal walls of the single-storey house Image: © Nao Takahashi
  • The structural walls have been inventively constructed out of excavated soil from the site, effectively doing away with its disposal cost | Soil House | ADX Japan | STIRworld
    The structural walls have been inventively constructed out of excavated soil from the site, effectively doing away with its disposal cost Image: © Nao Takahashi
  • The house sits in stark contrast within its dense semi-urban residential context | Soil House | ADX Japan | STIRworld
    The house sits in stark contrast within its dense semi-urban residential context Image: © Nao Takahashi

The enticing story that forms the metaphorical foundation of this house has the owner of the property relocating to the current dense residential settlement the house is located in, after being displaced by the Great East Japan Earthquake, also known as the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. Before the earthquake, the client’s former abode was a residence ensconced in nature, surrounded and moulded by forest like natural expanses. Forced to relocate to a temporary housing structure in the wake of the natural disaster, the owner’s family was tragically separated too. The earthquake and the resultant tsunami are said to be so powerful that they moved Honshu, Japan's largest island, 2.4 metres east and shifted the planet on its axis by an estimated 10 centimetres. Looking to new beginnings, the family’s foremost requirement came to be for the house to be nestled amid “thick woods”. Imagining a pragmatic solution to an urban unfeasibility, the design team at ADX worked their way around to the rather unusual design brief by working on the landscape design of the site first, followed by the structures around a pre-designed requisite.

  • The house’s landscape and mounds attempt to mimic the natural surroundings of the owner’s former house before they were displaced by the 2011 earthquake | Soil House | ADX Japan | STIRworld
    The house’s landscape and mounds attempt to mimic the natural surroundings of the owner’s former house before they were displaced by the 2011 earthquake Image: © Nao Takahashi
  • The trapezoidal walls of the house have been lined with expanded polystyrene, sprayed upon with shotcrete, and left with a deliberate rough, soil like texture | Soil House | ADX Japan | STIRworld
    The trapezoidal walls of the house have been lined with expanded polystyrene, sprayed upon with shotcrete, and left with a deliberate rough, soil like texture Image: © Nao Takahashi

An additional discovery that became one of the many defining aspects of the design further down the line was the disposal of surplus soil from excavation costing more than the estimates submitted. Building on the distinct memory of playing with soil during childhood, the design team at ADX devised an interesting solution, utilising surplus soil rather than disposing it. Trapezoidal mounds of the excavated soil were formed as load-bearing elements, complete with a foundation, and then lined with expanded polystyrene, eventually sprayed on by a cocktail of shotcrete and aforementioned soil, for an unfinished surface bearing the memory and imprint of a mud wall, believed to be embodying its own energising spirit. Through this literal rooting of the house to its land, the Japanese design practice claims to have achieved an atmosphere that is in line with nature, apart from the greens usually employed to fulfill that purpose.

  • The landscape, location of mounds, and exterior of the house were designed first to respond to the client’s unique requirements | Soil House | ADX Japan | STIRworld
    The landscape, location of mounds, and exterior of the house were designed first to respond to the client’s unique requirements Image: © Nao Takahashi
  • The interiors of the house follow principles of Japanese minimalism, complete with sliding screen doors | Soil House | ADX Japan | STIRworld
    The interiors of the house follow principles of Japanese minimalism, complete with sliding screen doors Image: © Nao Takahashi
  • The corridors of the house leading to the residential quarters highlight how the seemingly random occurrence of the mounds within the house leads to a break from visual monotony | Soil House | ADX Japan | STIRworld
    The corridors of the house leading to the residential quarters highlight how the seemingly random occurrence of the mounds within the house leads to a break from visual monotony Image: © Nao Takahashi

The ‘residence’ planned along these nearly incidental mounds then prioritises utility in spatial planning and minimalism in overall schematic. Gliding through the corridors that allow access to the residential quarters of the house, one’s movement is guided along the “natural”, even surprising occurrence of these mounds. The rooms are further done up in the traditional Washitsu style of architecture, complete with sliding screen doors, while timber acts as the primary as well as secondary structural material hoisting the single-storey residence. 

  • Interiors of the house allow for open space and ample daylight through aptly lined fenestrations along common areas, while accommodating a simple material palette | Soil House | ADX Japan | STIRworld
    Interiors of the house allow for open space and ample daylight through aptly lined fenestrations along common areas, while accommodating a simple material palette Image: © Nao Takahashi
  • The rough, unfinished texture of the earth walls contrasts albeit warmly with the smooth finish of the wooden floor | Soil House | ADX Japan | STIRworld
    The rough, unfinished texture of the earth walls contrasts albeit warmly with the smooth finish of the wooden floor Image: © Nao Takahashi

Responding to the significant emotional value impinged upon the house, and how their design harnesses and translates it into a modern, functional city residence, the design team at ADX believes that this unique design conglomeration of ideas “balances staticity and dynamism: "staticity" to reflect in silence, and "dynamism" to get down to work”. On the memorability it evokes, the team adds that “we wish this house will inspire people to think about themselves, their family, the region, and society in a comfortable and peaceful way. Moreover, we desire this house built with local material remains in their hearts as a symbol of the region”. Aptly christened the Soil House, the house seems a beautiful coming-full-circle of the family’s displacement by the earthquake, and the house in turn honouring the earth; a fulfilment of a familial arc. The house’s unique relationship to the ground, that binds, connects, even nurtures, is exaggerated by these mounds that act like an inverted foundation of the house itself, super-structured to support the roof instead.

  • Soil house: plan and layout | Soil House | ADX Japan | STIRworld
    Soil house: plan and layout Image: © Nao Takahashi
  • Soil house: longitudinal section showcasing the structure of soil mounds through the house | Soil House | ADX Japan | STIRworld
    Soil house: longitudinal section showcasing the structure of soil mounds through the house Image: © Nao Takahashi

Project Details

Name: Soil House
Location: Minamisōma city, Fukushima prefecture, Japan
Site area: 1003 sq.m. 
Building area: 144.2 sq.m. 
Total floor area: 137 sq.m.
Design team: ADX
Project manager: Kotaro Anzai
Engineer: Kenji Nawa/ Nawakenji-m 
Construction: Tukuru

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