Villa Saitan / EASTERN Design Office

© Koichi Torimura

Architects: EASTERN Design Office + HOJO Structure Research Institute
Location: Kyoto, Japan
Client: Shigekazu Yagi
Constructor: Minobe Construction Corporation
Site Area: 301.82 sqm
Total Floor Area: 557.70 sqm
Project Year: 2006
Photographs: Koichi Torimura

The site is in Nishioji-hachijo, Kyoto. From the main street we enter into a covert place along an alley of 4 meters in width.

This construction is a collective housing consisting of 11 units. The impersonality of segmental housing complex is completely concealed in this architecture. Instead it is built to be seen as one big house.

The architecture is covered with a wall in which holes are cut. The shape of the holes resembles a trunk, leaves, a root and bulbs. It also can be seen as clouds floating over the trees.

wall axo

shape which is based on nature turns into a hollow cave, light, and sunbeams filtered through trees.

The idea of windows like sunbeams filtered through trees has developed with the following methods: lined up balconies of average collective housing are completely hidden here ・ there is no balcony for each room ・ the ceiling height of one room is raised ・ dwelling units are elevated one meter from the ground ・ floor level of entrance and apartments is different・ center of the wall surface is curved ・ the center of the façade of the architecture is sculptured ・ a curved winding slit is made on the curved wall surface ・ the shape of the holes matches with the winding slit ・ the result is one shape of a plant growing roots undulating from it.

© Koichi Torimura

Since curved holes are made on a carved wall surface, it is physically inevitable that the section of holes is also twisted. This distortion resembles the shape of plants and the organic and free style of nature.

The entrance to the house is from the root carved into the center of the front wall. An inner pathway peculiar to Kyoto can be found there. An inner pathway is a narrow corridor which runs from street to street and from lot to lot.

© Koichi Torimura

In this project the inner path is connected to the garden of the town house of the client. He manages this collective housing by himself. It is his daily routine to do sweeping, arranging flowers at the entrance, and watering the path. Thus he enjoys his post-retirement years.

This land was once the site of NIshihachijo-palace, which was the residence of a hero of the Japanese classical tragedy, “Tale of Heike.” It was a stage of rise and fall of a clan in the 12th century. Such an old and sad memory is cherished and still told among the people of this neighborhood.

ground floor plan

The collective housing that is built on such a historical place should not be seen as an average apartment house. Such notion occurred to us, which might have led us to the idea of an “immortal tree.”

We, therefore, designed a building which does not take vaguely a shape of a tree, but rather an intense and massive form with a tint of movement.

The lot size is 16m×19m. This architecture gives an answer how to build a low collective housing in a quiet but dense place.

© Koichi Torimura

What does the name Saitan mean? Tan is the color of the shrine gates, vermilion. It is also the color of pale red granite stone. Vermilion will not be weathered. It is said that vermillion is a sacred color and it used to be applied on serving dishes and bow and arrow to make them holy ones. Sai means variety of beautiful colors that make something more attractive.

Cite: "Villa Saitan / EASTERN Design Office" 02 Feb 2010. ArchDaily. Accessed 26 May 2015. <>
  • zandar

    wow… it somehow looks like a (special) parkinggarage from the outside… i am not convinced this is a villa…
    it is nicely made though…

  • naysayer

    Nothing special. It is quite boring.

    Just kidding. It’s fantastic! So elegant!

  • billy toast

    I can’t work out whether this is real or computer generated.

    far outtttt

  • Architist

    The first photo look like a rendering… I love the overall constructions technique!! beautiful!!

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  • Rouan

    Construction technique is cool but the cut-outs into the wall seem too literal, representing “leaves” or “clouds”. Making an opening in the shape of a leaf for the sake of having something look different seem contrived to me. The “immortal tree” idea also seems a bit strange…

  • up_today_arch

    There are two pictures, without curved windows… it is more interesting then it finished by tiles… It is looks like drawing for fabric, not architecture.

  • Didier

    It’s a shame that the exploration is only skin deep

  • Modern Zen Architecture

    It’s great to see this real life project go full cycle, instead of just another great design never to see the light of day. It’s absolutely a breath of fresh air to see what we all imagine was probably first drawn out by hand, then processed by a computer–now we’re seeing the result of someone’s creative imagination. Fantastico!!

  • Michael

    Personally, I cannot reconcile such a wildly expressive elevation with the humdrum floorplans of the apartments. It’s like two people designed the building…the developer drew the plans and the architect stuck a crazy facade on it.

  • chenlu98

    From the skin ,it looks like a museum or some other things,but not a housing. only a skin

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  • yeah

    I appreciate the effort but the shapes are plain ugly. Somebody can’t draw or find an elegant curve. From a graphical point of view these are just bad.

    • felix

      amen. those are my exact same first thoughts

    • j

      hey! lets put a leaf like void in this concrete wall…they had a great opportunity. but i dont think they handled it correctly.

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  • Sean

    why would you cover the concrete with the “rock” material? it turns suck a fluid shape into a gridded, squared off subject, which also looks poorly detailed to me.

    also, im really not into such a literal translation of a tree. I understand going for the feeling of a tree, but this doesnt even produce that. The interesting part or tree leaves is there scale and the way it almost produces a translucentcy, this does not.

    It is a nice form though