by Shivangi BuchMay 22, 2023
Nestled among mountainous trees, House for Marebito (roughly translating to ‘House for Visitors’) is a timber clad guesthouse perched on the sloping Toga village in Nanto City of Toyama Prefecture, Japan, spearheaded by Japanese architecture startup VUILD. The modular construction project, led by Koki Akiyoshi, encounters the local issues that forestry and marginal settlements here face, by employing locally sourced wood and Computer Numerical Control (CNC) milling machines called ShopBot to construct it, which enabled the locals to fabricate and work with lumber themselves, with minimal transportation.
Toga, with a population of about 600 people, is considered a ‘marginal village’, with rich wood resources, owing to the mountains and forests that cover 97 per cent of its land. “A marginal village is one with over half the residents over the age of 65. By building a guesthouse in such a location, the project proposes a new concept of a second home, where people can come and go to visit their relatives as they please, ‘much more than tourism and not just migration’,” shares VUILD team.
Marebito is an ancient Japanese word that refers to a supernatural ‘visitor’ who comes from afar, bearing gifts of wisdom, spiritual knowledge and happiness. Since ancient times, there has been a custom in Japan to believe in, and invite visitors from the outside as marebito. The project is named thus because “the area where the House for Marebito has been constructed faces social issues such as marginalisation and a decline in the forestry industry as well as the population. We faced these problems head on in the construction process, by making the local residents and local timber the primary part of the architecture and construction,” Akiyoshi remarks.
To construct the seven-metre high, two-storey house with an A-frame roof, VUILD proposed a new local networking system that finishes the construction process on site itself. From material procurement to installation, everything was done within a 10 kilometre radius. The construction process began by introducing a low-cost, high-performance digital fabrication machine called ShopBot to the local lumber mill Nagata Corporation. ShopBot then sliced local logs and turned them into wooden boards that make up the entire house. Digital fabrication helped to duplicate local, traditional architectural methods called Gassho Zukuri and Wakunouchi, where wooden beams combine to form a steep roof developed to withstand heavy snowfalls. “These traditional methods have been in decline due to the exodus of the population to urban areas and the decline of the local economy; VUILD’s challenge was to realise these traditional techniques in a modern setting,” continues Akiyoshi.
Designed for four guests, the residential architecture is oriented such that its gable façades are placed to the north and south to imitate Gassho Zukuri, while the mountains running parallel to the house resemble a U-shaped gutter, mimicking the wind path. A ‘wind catcher’ is placed on its east façade that brings in much needed warmth, daylight and ventilation.
All of the guesthouse, from the exterior to its interior design, is dominated by warm toned timber. Stone steps lead into the timber house, its exterior fitted entirely with repeated wood slats, and slim rectangular wooden and glass windows that jut outward, giving some accent to the two, simple trapezoidal façades. VUILD was particular about sticking to their idea of “an architecture which is an extension of the furniture, and which can be made by an amateur,” when they conceptualised the House for Marebito. The straightforward tables and other furniture inside are thus, affixed to the floors and walls, functioning as an attached organ rather than removable accessories. The lower floor hosts living spaces such as the kitchen island and living room, while the bedroom is placed on the floor above.
By processing all the wooden parts to be small in size, they succeeded in involving the locals, from kids, men, women, and the elderly, to participate in the house’s construction process. Additionally, smaller parts also ensure ease in transportation, and construction without the help of scaffolding, despite the challenging, narrow, sloping topography. “Although over 1,000 pieces and 1,000 joints were needed at the end of the day, since all the pieces were processed by the digital fabrication machine, there was no misalignment,” shares the design team. With House for Marebito, VUILD succeeds in realising a prototype for a house that reduces costs and long-distance transportation, significantly lessens environmental impact, in tandem with involving locals to build it with ease.
Name: House for Marebito
Location: 433 Taikanba, Toga Village, Nanto City, Toyama Prefecture, Japan
Height: 7,106 mm
Site Area: 330.08 sqm
Building Area: 52.44 sqm
Total Floor Area: 59.32 sqm (FAR 17.9%)
Architect: VUILD Inc.
Structure: yasuhirokaneda STRUCTURE
Environment: DE. Lab
Facility: Lifeservice Co., Ltd
Electricity: Matsuda Denki Kougyou Co., Ltd
Metal Plate: Kawabe Metal Plate Kougyou Ltd.
Hardware: Hiramiya Co., Ltd
Lumber: Nagata Corporation
Foundation: Ueda Corporation