One of Japanese architect Kazuo Shinohara’s iconic architectures, designed under the so-called "First Style" has now been reconstructed on the Vitra Campus in Weil am Rhein. The Umbrella House, originally built in Tokyo in 1961, will serve as a venue for small gatherings on the campus, offering visitors insights on modern Japanese architecture. After the geodesic dome by Buckminster Fuller/George Howard in 1975, and a petrol station by Jean Prouvé in 1953, the project is the third historic building to be reconstructed on the Vitra Campus.
Born in 1925, Kazuo Shinohara is considered as one of the most important Japanese architects from the second half of the twentieth century. Although he is not as known internationally, his work has influenced architects such as Toyo Ito and Kazuyo Sejima.
The wooden house, with its squared layout, offered sufficient space for a small family under its "umbrella" roof. Shinohara drew on the traditional vernacular architecture of Japanese homes and temples, employing their various motifs, such as the pyramid-shaped roof form used in the Umbrella House, which had previously only been seen in temple complexes. When building the house, Shinohara employed simple and inexpensive materials, such as local wood elements and cement fiber boards on the façade.
Shinohara divided his work into four styles, each addressing different issues and challenges. The Umbrella House was built in Nerima, a residential neighborhood in Tokyo, and is the smallest and one of the last remaining residences from his First Style. The 55m2 floor area features a kitchen and dining table, a living room, a bathroom, and a traditional tatami room with 15 half-size tatami mats, which provided living and sleeping quarters for the whole family. Slightly raised with a
flat ceiling, the tatami room can be separated from the living room via five sliding doors (fusuma). Prints by Japanese artist Setsu Asakura on the sliding doors were also executed to Shinohara’s specifications. The visible umbrella structure of the roof spans the interior volume at 4 meters in height, making the small floor area appear larger. The furniture was designed by the architect himself, as well as by designer Katsuhiko Shiraishi.
The Umbrella House made a notable contribution to the architectural discourse of 1960s Japan. As it was planned to be demolished to give way to a roadbuilding project at its previous location in Tokyo, Vitra decided to acquire the house and safeguard it. Built using a wooden post-and-beam construction method, the house was carefully dismantled in the summer of 2020 and separated into individual parts. The wooden structure is made of Japanese cypress, Japanese pine, and Oregon pine. Reconstruction on the Vitra Campus commenced in September 2021 in close coordination with the Tokyo Institute of Technology, and was completed in summer 2022. Today, the house is furnished with a mix of replicas and original pieces.
Celebrating Japanese architecture, guided tours will be taking place from June 11th to 19th, exploring the three buildings designed by Japanese Architects on the Campus. The Umbrella House, the Conference Pavilion by Tadao Ando, and the Production Hall by SANAA will be included in the tour.