Location: Tokyo, Japan
Architect: Shigeru Ban
With space in the residential areas of Tokyo at a premium, Shigeru Ban has made a name for himself in counterintuition. The architect has been known to install a unique sense of ephemerality in his work, and this early work in his career provides perhaps the greatest evidence of this skill. Several years prior to winning the Pritzker Prize in architecture, Shigeru Ban’s Curtain Wall House demonstrated a modest yet distinct beginning in the early 1990s.
Curtain Wall House is sited on a small corner lot in the Itabashi-ku neighborhood, and is over three stories. The ground floor is a simple open garage, a set of stairs, and a dramatically large triangular awning. On the second floor, the main floor, lies a simply furnished living room and kitchen, with a very large patio. The second and third floor share the same air space, and they both afford stunning views of the neighborhood, uninterrupted except for a few carefully placed structural columns. The facade of the building is made up of two oversized curtains. Whether opened or closed, the curtains have a commanding presence in the neighborhood; when pushed away, the stunning clarity of the interior is exposed; when pulled together, the intensity by which they sway with the wind makes the house a spectacle in concealment. Though the lightness of the partition partly takes its inspiration from the traditional shoji screen, it has a much more animated quality in Shigeru Ban’s interpretation.
Responding to a long-standing trend in Japanese design, Shigeru Ban is a strong advocate for the concept of the “un-private” house, meaning a house without the primary function of concealing information about the interior. And because Japanese housing is most commonly about small, sparsely decorated rooms, Curtain Wall House has a patio that is nearly the size of the interior rooms, allowing its owners to keep the function of this space unassigned. Of course, all of the rooms can be partitioned off by sliding glass doors for the warmer months and more secure protection.