By going about their daily lives, humans become attuned to a sense of how much space feels familiar and right – the right size for an entrance, a children’s room, a bedroom, and so on. Although this optimal size may vary according to the individual, a sensible range of these dimensions typically already exists in our mind. A “standard” size for any given project is therefore already set. Forgetting about this sensation of the “right” size for a moment, however, offers us a way of making adjustments to this rigid, entrenched view.
For instance, gradually increasing what is commonly thought of as a standard size for an entrance will yield what is called a doma (Japanese earthen floor and threshold). New uses for this part of the house will proliferate, thanks to the links between the doma and the living room, or uses for the entrance that go beyond its original purpose. On the contrary, if the size of this entrance decreases, it may disappear altogether and give rise to different configurations. Our client for this project was interested in a split-level home, and wanted a house where the family would be able to circulate through the space in three dimensions, as it were.
The client had other requests regarding airflow throughout the site, and was concerned about excessive heat from sun exposure at the front of the site, which faces west. While thinking about various issues that had to be addressed, however, we came up with the idea of having a wide staircase situated at the center of the house. Why not have a wide, generous staircase without having any particular practical reason for it? What if we tried to think of a staircase as something that was not just a passageway for moving up and down?
This huge staircase would run through the entire height of the house from top to bottom, piercing through the building in the same direction as the airflow. When the windows are opened, a pleasant wind blows through the house. Even at the height of summer, the inhabitants can enjoy a comfortable environment by sitting on the staircase. At the top of the staircase is an inbuilt table that seems to be joined directly to the stairs, where the inhabitants can enjoy their meals while sitting on part of the staircase.
The rooms on the second floor are configured so that they enclose the area surrounding the staircase. These rooms mainly house the beds for the owner’s three children, and long desks for studying. The first floor includes a bedroom and tatami (straw-matted) room, which is used as a private space. There is also a doma that makes use of the area underneath the staircase where bicycles and a motorbike can be stored, and a bathroom that connects to the doma.
After having lived in this house for some time, the client remarked, “there are times when we just hang out on the staircase. Looking down from the staircase when the front windows are open gives us a nice view of the garden.” Although we restricted the size of the front windows in order to provide some respite from the western sun, opening these windows allows sunlight to reflect off the lower portion of the staircase, providing illumination from the bottom up. Although planning a building typically involves making decisions about various things, we felt that there are also important elements that can add variety to different lifestyles in places that are more or less unplanned, or places without a self-evident purpose or objective.