Thoughts today still rumbling around the idea of space and how it can best be utilized for aesthetic as well as practical purposes. With the clever design of Japan’s ‘bicycle tree’ still in mind, it was understandable that other innovations and designs by those clever Japanese would trickle into my thoughts.
If finding available space for parking bicycles is a problem in Japan, it’s nothing compared to using available space judiciously in the design and construction of houses and apartments. True, many Japanese homes are a stuffed jumble of boxes and furnishings where interior space becomes increasingly cramped. But there are as well living spaces designed by architects on the cutting edge of space management.
Five or six years ago I bought a book in Tokyo called simply, Space, by photographer Michael Freeman which examines in photographs ‘Japanese Design Solutions for Compact Living.’ The 224 pages are filled with examples of how Japanese architects and homeowners have tackled the problem of comfortable yet aesthetic living in small spaces, extending the principles to garden as well as interiors.
Photos included here are of a backyard den in Ibaraki, just north of Tokyo. A traditional wooden barrel used in making soy sauce serves as a foundation for the structure. The diameter of the barrel, and ultimately the den as well, is six and a half feet, and the idea of turning that small round space into a playroom for the guys came from a group of friends who have known each other since childhood. The ‘house’ was built in the garden of one friend at a cost of $4,600, and was a three month project. It features a central hearth for both cooking and heat, and also has air conditioning for summer months. The tiny house is furnished with a hi-fi system, television, a central table with drawers and rice straw mats on the wood floor. The friends prepared the barrel by leaving it filled with water to remove the smell of soy sauce. The barrel is made of Japanese cedar and this is enough to ensure privacy for the Saturday nights of beer and baseball. The photograph shows only three people, but in a crunch it can accommodate seven in what the builders describe as ‘close comfort.’