A Tale of Two Cities 

March 2, 2024 by Student Kenzo W.

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Learning Targets

  • 21st Century Skills
  • Applied Sciences & Technology
  • Interpretation and Expression
  • Mathematical Reasoning and Modeling
  • People and Cultures

Driving Question:

How can we apply the Japanese approach of cultural conservation to design for architectural renovation or innovation in our own home cities?

Module Summary:

The teacher-led module “A Tale of Two Cities” focuses on architectural innovation and cultural conservation. The students got to explore how Japanese cultural conservation approaches could be applied to architectural renovation in their home cities. Throughout the term, they had the opportunity to learn from local and global architectural techniques and delve deeper into their own cultural techniques.

Kenzo W.’s 3D design for the Tale of Two Cities module is a modern Japanese resort/vacation home located in Karuizawa, a town in Nagano prefecture, Japan. This house is designed to accommodate 2-4 residents during the summertime and integrates both traditional and modern Japanese architectural concepts and furnishings, reflecting a blend of his artistic choices and elements from the Japanese lifestyle.

The key Japanese architectural concepts Kenzo W. focused on were Oku (depth) and the Doma (earthen floor), which were highlighted by guest speaker Professor Daniel during the Kyoto Wexplore. Professor Daniel explained these concepts and their connection to Japanese culture, and the session venue itself represented Oku, the Doma, and the Nakaniwa. In Kenzo’s design, Oku is represented through the flow of the house, emphasizing the concept of depth within a building. The bedroom, the most private part of the house, is the room that requires the most walking to reach, with personal activity spaces like the living room, recreational room, and dining room leading up to it. Despite the large windows on the second floor, there is no direct access to the outside environment.

The Doma is incorporated through the literal use of an earthen floor in the entryway, serving as a foundation and a slight height difference from the garden and the interior of the house. This facilitates the Japanese tradition of removing shoes when going inside and outside, supported by a shoe box, and acts as a border and gateway to the outside spaces of the house. Kenzo also included Shoji, Tatami, and Futon furnishings to suit the Japanese lifestyle for the intended residents, making the house cozy and representative of a traditional Japanese lifestyle, ideal for his family as a vacation home.

One of the unique elements Kenzo W. focused on is the roofing, which he considers a key identifying feature of a Japanese house. The design features an angled sloped gable roof fused with a smaller gable roof at a 90˚ angle, emulating the curves of natural environments and avoiding a cubic appearance. This roof design opens up on one side to create more space for windows in the living and recreational areas, directing the house’s face towards a scenic view.

Kenzo chose to incorporate modern architectural elements as a personal aesthetic preference, inspired by the style of Japanese villa homes, such as those designed by M’s architect. This is reflected in his choice of a gray and brown color scheme from wood and metal materials. He also considered the environment by incorporating large windows facing a predominant direction to take advantage of views such as a sunrise, sunset, or mountain scenery.