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A Tour of Tiny House Architecture in Tokyo

In his forthcoming book, Hyperlocalization of Architecture, author and Passive House consultant Andrew Michler turns his lens to contemporary architecture, but his focus is on a very timeless concept. "Architecture became almost a form of entertainment in a way," he says. "We lost what it did really well, provide comfortable habitat for humans. I wanted to look squarely at using location as a locus for design, as a way to be sustainable, something that's been lost in the past 50-60 years."

Michler's curated approach covers an array of location and contexts: the sustainable designs of the Pacific Northwest, the airy facades of the sun-drenched Spanish landscape, and unfolding Australian structures that take the Sydney Opera house as a key expression of their country's architectural heritage. He zeroes in on the Japanese trend towards small, artful dwelling, the kyosho jutaku, a result of a deeply urbanized society where residential architecture, due to an ingrained desire for single-family homes, waves of construction and loose zoning laws, can often appear like a cluster of villages as opposed to a massive metropolis. "They've developed different ways on a different scale, and deal with a different set of development laws then we do, so it results in an array of interesting commissions that allow architects to stretch their design chops," he says. To illustrate what he sees as incredible volumetric design, an exploration of inner space unshackled by Western concepts of privacy, we asked Michler to take us through some of his favorite examples of condensed design in and around Tokyo.

Mist House by TNA (2008)
This renovation project delineated space with gently sloping volumes and a series of screens and curtains, which control how light filters into the relatively small space and create a soft glow like an overcast day.

T House by Kubota Architect Atelier (2007)
Working with a relatively tiny 86-square-meter (925-square-feet) footprint in Yokohama, the architect magnified the imprint of this hillside retreat with minimalist outdoor spaces, such as the stark brackets atop the rooftop overlooking Tokyo Bay.

Paco House by Schemata Architects (2009)
A 32-square-foot cube hidden amid the bushes, the Paco House, a riff off the small kiosuku shops in Japanese train stations, turns a weakness into a strength with adaptive design. A hydraulic roof allows daylight into a shape-shifting interior, which includes a bed hidden under a hammock.

Cell Brick by Atelier Tekuto (2004)
To make the most of a 325-square-foot lot, the architects of this cubic residence stacked steel boxes like Jenga blocks, turning the facade into interior storage.

Small House by Hiroyuki Unemori (2010)
The architect saved his creativity for the interior design, not the name, of this urban Tokyo home, which stacks multiple levels on extremely thin floor plates. To increase usability and comfort, the space allows the family to sleep downstairs in the summer and upstairs in the winter, a technique often seen in traditional Japanese farm houses.

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