Objective of the work
The Forest House is a country villa that was designed to nestle amongst the trees in a forest site situated far away from the bustle of the city.
The project’s distinctive tent-like sectional form with few perpendicular walls was derived from a simple goal to generate maximum volume from a limited budget. At the same time, it also reflects an idea that what is needed most in a country villa in the present internet/networked age are not ‘material objects’ (such as books), but a ‘space’ that is spacious and allows for the leisurely enjoyment of the rich natural environment of the surroundings.
This project, which contains a space that carries a primitive quality that can be described as being “in-between a hut and a cave”, proposes a future for the architecture of country villas that have previously often been designed as nothing more than miniaturized suburban houses.
How the work fits into the town planning
The project sits at an elevation of 700 meters above sea level at the foot of the North Alps mountain range extending across the central region of the Japanese archipelago on a site in Azumino, which is known for its beautiful landscape. The site called for a building form that conformed to the surrounding environment because it was protected under the landscape preservation regulations of Azumino. The distinctive branching plan and triangular section of the project, which were unprecedented in the buildings of the area, initially was met with mixed opinions among the members of Azumino’s landscape committee and this necessitated for more time to be spent on explaining the project than usual. After it was clarified that the branching plan arose from the intent to protect the existing trees without cutting them and that the triangular section was aimed at maximizing floor area for the occupants while preserving the tree branches above, the committee ultimately approved the project and made it possible for the building to be realized.
Choice of materials
The finishing materials of the Forest House directly embody the performance functions expected of a modern country villa. Specifically, its exterior requires minimal maintenance; the interior is unified seamlessly with a material that provides a tranquil ambience; and the floors have a texture that feels comfortable under the feet. Based on these aspects, all of the surfaces of the roof and outer walls were covered using galvanized steel sheets. The building has no gutters, such that the rain and snow seep directly into the earth.
The interior was finished with lime plaster mixed with a small amount of a yellow-colored soil to give it a sense of warmth. The traditional material proved to be most suitable for finishing the curved wall and ceiling surfaces that differ subtly between each of the wings in their dimensions and angles of inclination. Wide-cut oak board flooring was employed for finishing the floors.
The main body of the Forest House is a timber construction. While Azumino is known for its severe winters, the timber helps to create a comfortable thermal environment due to its low thermal mass and it is also a cost effective material.
It is possible to achieve high structural performance using relatively thin components with the primitive triangularly-shaped section because very few moment forces are generated within it. The interior spaces that are as much as 4.5 meters wide and 5.1 meters tall are thus able to be supported by walls just 170 millimeters thick that accommodate the structure, high-performance insulation, and finishing materials. The complex joint elements between the timber structural members, which are each at unique angles, were all shaped by the hands of local carpenters.
The lighting design of the interior with its slanted walls also presented itself as a significant challenge. LED lighting was embedded at the edge of the walls and floors, and it has the capacity to fully illuminate the interior despite having a width of just 17 millimeters. The lighting and under-floor heating system is operable via the internet, thus making it possible for the owner to arrive to a bright and warm room even in deep winter.
Use of materials in respect of the context
Both modern/industrial materials and traditional/craftsmen’s materials have been used in the Forest House. They were not implemented merely for emotional or sentimental reasons, but were chosen logically to create an architectural form that is in harmony with its surrounding natural environment (spatial context) and meets the sustainable performance needs of a modern country villa (temporal context).
PHOTOSL: Masaya Yoshimura