Highly commended

Makoto Yamaguchi


Karuizawa, Japan

December 2003
Makoto Yamaguchis country villa was puzzling to some members of the jury. At first it seems so simple. Then you begin to think. How does it work? How, even, do you get into it?
It is set on a steep slope above Karuizawa, a little town in the forest, much favoured by Tokyoites for weekend trips. Owned by two musicians, it is intended to act not only as a house, but a gallery for contemporary art (mainly sculpture), a place in which to entertain friends, and as a performance space for its owners works. In view of the latter, it is curious that the owners demanded that there should be no visible wood, and that all materials should be smooth and hard: white walls, mirrors, glass and polished stainless steel. What the architect calls white space was required, even to the point of building the bath and kitchen into the floor. (To cook, you have to go down steps into a sort of narrow trench, so you can stand and prepare food at floor level.)
Such careful minimalism allows space to be uncluttered. The principal volume is formed in a
Y-shaped plan with each of its limbs arranged to point through glass walls towards a particularly fine part of the mountainous forest. The resulting main white space is a powerful focus, in which the forest is hauntingly present whatever the time of day. Externally, the confluence of axes makes the small building a white node in the wild. It is totally clad (including the concrete base) in fibre-reinforced plastic to form a seamless white box that appears to have been made of origami by a giants hands.
Though some jury members had reservations about the buildings external form (holding it to lack scale), all were impressed by the calm spatial quality of the interior, and the resolve of clients and architect alike to achieve the spaces, and their relationship to the marvellous natural landscape.
(Incidentally, you get in from the terrace, either through the bathroom or the kitchen.)

Makoto Yamaguchi, Tokyo