The Open Cage
About the Garden House by Takeshi Hosaka Architects
Pasajes Diseño #12, April, 2009

Photo by Sergio Pirrone.

Madrid, Spain, 1997 or 1998
(40°23’N 3°43’W: 607 km2, 2.8 m inhabitants, 4612 inhabitants/km2)

I think it was in 1997 or 1998, a few years after starting Architecture school, when I realized for the very first time something special was happening in Japan. At that time I had little, or if you like, no knowledge of Architecture built by anyone other than the Great Masters, and everything we knew from looking through magazines was stigmatized as vulnerable and faddish, something you could not be lulled into, because it gave you a false sense of security if you wanted to be a good architect. But of course, as soon as we could, all of us were browsing avidly through the glossy pages of the magazines in which our contemporaries were publishing, which produced a range of feelings from guilt to joy, and converted the whole experience into something totally memorable.
From what I remember of those dead hours spent reading, whether at a library, a bar, at home, metro or even walking (it is hard to believe, even for me now, how clear this image is in my head) what caught my attention the most, especially because of the clarity and openness the images and drawings were producing, were those little Japanese houses: so white and pure, they looked to have been taken out of a Mediterranean town where, for some strange reason their inhabitants had altered their physical features, and, in an even stranger way, had been carried to another place from Nippon. But the oddest impression I have still today, is the location of these houses in their context, sometimes in the middle of hundreds of other little houses-chaos with almost no air to breathe in between, and other times in a cold and distant ward, but always in the big Japanese cities like Tokyo, Osaka, Yokohama or Kyoto.

Caceres, Spain, 1987
(39°51’N 5°40’W: 60.41 km2, 487 inhabitants, 8 inhabitants/km2)

Like any other summer, the family moves to the little summer house in a lost village in Extremadura: mostly uninhabited area in Spain, unpopulated to its extreme, which makes it both very unknown and because of that, quite unique. The heat is intense, the days are way too long and the odds for something extraordinaire to happen very poor. Besides, you are just a little kid who cannot move or explore without having an adult with you all the time, so your entertainment is limited to your own imagination and the boundaries of the house. A house that includes all the necessary elements for this family’s everyday life, which expanded with grandparents and eventually uncles and aunts and cousins, makes the chances of unexpected chaos very high due to the almost spontaneous modifications of the domestic space (i.e. new extra beds coming in from nowhere, tables twice the size of the usual ones, doors open 24/7, etc). But the only thing that is always untouched, no matter how many people live or visit the house, probably because it is always changing and greets all kinds of activities, even the weirdest ones, is the patio. Surrounded by bedrooms on two sides and protected by a white and not too tall wall on the other two, the patio hosts a tree in the middle: a fig tree whose fruits provide one of the high-peak moments of activity in the summer house, when everybody, from kids to the elderly and all family friends, spread all over the small patio and climb and whip the tree to collect the best fruits and then clean them and enjoy them right there. A lot of times, after the busy workday, the family gathers together for an informal supper where little dishes move quickly from the kitchen to the patio and from hand to hand, and they feast their eyes on the coming dusk, which envelops the patio-room as if it becomes the ceiling; they feel far from everything else, or nothing else, depending how you look at it. So the night comes and as part of a natural process, the young kids and visitors camp under the fig tree and spend the night there as if a new bedroom was built just there that evening for us.

Kanagawa, Japan, 2008
(35°27’N 139°38’E: 437 km2, 3.6 m inhabitants, 8335 inhabitants/ km2)

I find again one of these houses, the Garden House by Hosaka Takeshi Architects, built in between other tiny little houses in Yokohama. Again, as I imagine how it is to live in them, I see the same features that characterize so many of the other houses I never get tired of looking at: rooms of an extremely tiny size but perfectly studied for each of the domestic activities, immaculate white walls with no ornaments and of course no symptoms of any kind of mess (or at least not the kind of mess I dislike), simple details able to transform the space in an astonishing way, an obsessive fascination for open space as if the yearning for all you have lost when you decided to live in the congested city was leading the whole organization of the house, etc. Here, too, the patio is the central core, which dominates each of the rooms that form the house as if they appendices; on the one hand, everything revolves around it, and on the other hand, each of the spaces open towards it and expand their dimensions in a certainly uncertain way. These houses (the ones in which you do not think who designed them but how are their inhabitants living, enjoying and reengineering them) are the ones with value added to Architecture because they are not appealing only in terms of design or construction techniques but also because of the depth/richness of the experiences; they are not attached to a particular aesthetic but to generations or particular people. Perhaps now more than ever, we are more interested in a kind of work that inspires, rubs off and reconciles with Architecture than the absolute and boring stroke of genius.