When japan opened to the world after the Meiji Revolution in 1868, it actively emulated architectural traditions from Germany and Great Britain. However, ideas of modernism did not take root in Japan till after the Second World War Toshihiro Karnikozawa, the owner of this house, is a scholar of German literature well versed in the aesthetics of modernity and rationalism. His wife, a piano teacher, had lived in Germany during her childhood. Although built with Western materials and techniques, this one-storied, rectangular concrete box house has a calm sense of space reminiscent of traditional Japanese homes.
The Karnikozawa house was built in 1959, when Japan was just starting its successful climb from devastation during the war to its current prosperity. The Kamikozawas lived in a modest wooden house at that time, but wanted to own a home that reflected their ideals and optimism. When they saw the work of architect Kenji Hirose in a magazine, they knew that they had found the architect for their dream house. Hirose has been a pioneer in the modern Japanese construction industry and is well known for having designed the first series of buildings in Japan using light gauge steel structures. His original proposal was far above the budget set by Toshihiro Karnikozawa, who was only 32 years old at that time. However, both husband and wife worked with their architect—who was just a bit older—till they agreed on the plans, and completed a house that was quite radical for its time.
Since its construction, the Karnikozawa home has undergone several renovations because architectural technology and building materials in the 19.50s were not sufficiently sophisticated for the ideas of the owners and their architect. Adding new insulation material, waterproofing and heating under the floors were some of the alterations that had to be made. Then in 1976, Tetsuo Jinbo. an architect in Hirose's office, helped carry out complete renovation of this house, including installation of new sash window frames and massive double-glass sliding doors. A new kitchen and some contemporary furniture pieces were added in 1992.
Utter simplicity is the core of the architectural design of the Kamikozawas' house as well as their lifestyle. Despite frequent renovations, the original concept of this house has endured. In a sense, each renovation has resulted in bringing the house closer to the minimalist ideal of the Kamikozawas. It would have cost them about three times less money and much less trouble to construct a new house, but the couple saw the evolution of this house as a reflection of the evolution of their own lives from the days when they were young and poor but full of hope. The house has very little storage space, but it is enough for the Kamikozawas, who make every effort not to accumulate things unnecessarily. They both keep only three sets of clothes for each season, and give away books soon after reading them. The interior reflects their aesthetic discipline and a lifestyle fashioned on the principle "Less is more Articulated by the German architect Mies van der Rohe. this adage was the touchstone of modern architecture during the first three quarters of the 20th century.
Above: This comer serves as a kitchen and dining room. Installed in 1992, the built-in kitchen unit is from Poggenpohl, a well known German company. The dining table was custom designed for this space when the house was renovated in 1976. The prismatic lighting fixtures in the ceiling cast an artistic shadow on the wall and the slate floor.
Left: One part of this one-room house is used as a bedroom. This simple bed was custom designed for the room, and has been used since 1959. The concrete block partition wall on the right separates the toilet block from the rest of the house. The long steel and glass desk on the left was designed in 1976 to match the fixed glass windows that replaced the original masonry wall in front of desk shown on the previous page.
Above: A wide south-facing deck seen through the glass doors serves to extend the inner space when necessary. The doors slide on grooves located below the floor level on the deck side, so that the glass frames are hidden from view and the glass appears to float above the floor. Beyond the deck is the Kamikozawas' other classic German possession, a Mercedes SL500, parked in a garage built in 1979.
Left: Mrs Kamikozawa enjoys playing the game of Go. Developed about 4,000 years ago in China, the game is said to have been brought to Japan just before the seventh century Heating was added under this slate floor during the renovation process.
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