YEZO by LEAD: A swirling sanctuary nestled in the Hokkaido mountains in Japan

Taking advantage of the dramatic landscape and a tectonic design approach to house only the most essential spatial programme, YEZO seeks a new definition for ‘modern’ luxury.

by Anmol AhujaPublished on : Mar 22, 2021

Materialised almost entirely in wood and stone, complemented by pleasing hints of water and light, and surrounded by a dynamic, transformative landscape, YEZO is a nigh meditative settlement. Developed as a private retreat by Hong Kong-based Laboratory for Experimental Architecture and Design (LEAD), on a site that is as novel as it is enviably isolated in the mountain ranges in northern Hokkaido, YEZO adopts a minimalistic approach with respect to its spatiality that is characteristic of Japanese architecture, while at the same time employing a sophisticated, computation-driven design for its swirling roof. This seemingly disparate union of design styles served as an opportunity for the designers to demonstrate how a ‘holistic’ design philosophy resulted in a structure that is “ecologically sustainable and practically feasible”.

  • YEZO utilises an open, fluid layout for its living spaces, centred around its concrete fireplace | YEZO Mountain Retreat | Laboratory for Explorative Architecture and Design | STIRworld
    YEZO utilises an open, fluid layout for its living spaces, centred around its concrete fireplace Image: Courtesy of LEAD
  • Its swirling, computationally designed roof is YEZO's most striking feature | YEZO Mountain Retreat | Laboratory for Explorative Architecture and Design | STIRworld
    Its swirling, computationally designed roof is YEZO's most striking feature Image: Courtesy of LEAD

YEZO finds itself perched atop a flat rock on the mountain slope, affording a 360-degree view of its stunning landscapes, one of many such in Hokkaido. Access to the site is envisioned through a winding timber walkway at the back of the house. Modest in size, the retreat consists of a single, unified living space: a fluid spatial layout that is centred around the concrete fireplace, topped by its elaborate roof that is visually reminiscent of the roningasa straw hat from popular Japanese culture. The face of the fireplace affronts a seating and sleeping area, connected to the outside viewing deck through continuous, peerless glazing. Apart from facilitating uninhibited access to the outside, interestingly ‘uncontained’ through an absence of rails or a parapet, the deck also peculiarly corners a three-sided hot onsen pool along its curved tip.

  • A spiral staircase behind the fireplace provides access to a balcony and viewing level on the first floor | YEZO Mountain Retreat | Laboratory for Explorative Architecture and Design | STIRworld
    A spiral staircase behind the fireplace provides access to a balcony and viewing level on the first floor Image: Courtesy of LEAD
  • The balcony is enclosed by geometrically patterned frosted glass that allows diffused light into the living spaces | YEZO Mountain Retreat | Laboratory for Explorative Architecture and Design | STIRworld
    The balcony is enclosed by geometrically patterned frosted glass that allows diffused light into the living spaces Image: Courtesy of LEAD

The central fireplace in exposed concrete serves the dual purpose of a definitive space distinction, between the living spaces in the front, and the utility spaces: the bathroom, toilet, and storage facilities, along with being the structural pivot for the pirouetting timber roof. The shell structure of the roof, defined by the architects as built on a lean tectonic system, comprises glue-laminated (GluLam) timber beams cantilevered from the concrete chimney that doubles up as a hollow column. The curved beams are designed and shaped to operate purely in tension which results in weight and material constructions of up to 90 per cent vis-à-vis conventional timber construction. Algorithmically optimised for fabrication from a single mould for economy of cost, delivery time, and a reduction in ecological impact, the beams are further tied through catenary-shaped GluLam rafters. Additional support at the overhangs is lent by v-shaped extensions of the outward curving beam, anchored to the ground.

  • YEZO's interiors adopt a suitably minimalistic approach | YEZO Mountain Retreat | Laboratory for Explorative Architecture and Design | STIRworld
    YEZO's interiors adopt a suitably minimalistic approach Image: Courtesy of LEAD
  • Visualisation showcasing primary beams, catenary rafters, black slate cladding, and additional supports for the elaborate roof assembly | YEZO Mountain Retreat | Laboratory for Explorative Architecture and Design | STIRworld
    Visualisation showcasing primary beams, catenary rafters, black slate cladding, and additional supports for the elaborate roof assembly Image: Courtesy of LEAD

The elaborate timber framework of the roof is finally clad with black slate, lending a contemporary look, serving even as a reinterpretation of the chalet, a quintessentially Swiss building typology. A spiraling staircase behind the fireplace provides access to a whimsically shaped, partially enclosed balcony on the first floor, overlooked by the narrowing chimney of the fireplace and the ‘tucked’ apex of the swirling roof atop it. The enclosure for this balcony is framed by a fold of the roof structure and patterned, frosted glass along its perimeter, allowing diffused daylight into the living quarters below.

  • Floor plan, YEZO | YEZO Mountain Retreat | Laboratory for Explorative Architecture and Design | STIRworld
    Floor plan, YEZO Image: Courtesy of LEAD
  • Section through the middle of the structure| YEZO Mountain Retreat | Laboratory for Explorative Architecture and Design | STIRworld
    Section through the middle of the structure Image: Courtesy of LEAD
  • Profile drawing for each of the individually fabricated GluLam timber beams for the roof, generated from the same mould | YEZO Mountain Retreat | Laboratory for Explorative Architecture and Design | STIRworld
    Profile drawing for each of the individually fabricated GluLam timber beams for the roof, generated from the same mould Image: Courtesy of LEAD

While the designers at LEAD treated YEZO’s design odyssey as a testing ground for radical architectural intervention, its source of inspiration lies in retrospect. According to the designers, the processes found inspiration in “several pioneering engineers and architects who in the mid-20th century conceived radically new tectonic concepts aimed at reducing material use, and thus environmental impact”. The catenary timber roof assembly was particularly quoted to be inspired from the works of Kenzo Tange, Eero Saarinen and Frei Otto, who demonstrated the usage of similar roof geometries with their constituent structural members operating under pure tension, resulting in visually unique and functionally light-weight architecture.

02 mins watch Comprehensive look at the structural assembly of YEZO's roof and its fluid spatial programme | YEZO Mountain Retreat | Laboratory for Explorative Architecture and Design | STIRworld
Comprehensive look at the structural assembly of YEZO's roof and its fluid spatial programme Video: Courtesy of LEAD

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