Heirloom Minka: Architect Yasuhiro Yamashita’s personal campaign to revive a vintage Japanese building type.

Posted on September 21, 2010

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Best Green Houses
Atelier Tekuto
By David Sokol,Via:greensource.construction.com

Like America’s dogtrots, shotguns, Cumberland houses, and log cabins, Japanese vernacular architecture includes a unique house known as minka. The country boasts more than 1 million of these buildings, which vary dramatically according to region: Although a northern Japanese exemplar features steeply sloping roofs to prevent snow buildup, southern houses are raised on pilotis for natural ventilation. What all versions have in common is sensitivity to place evidenced by these climatic adaptations as well as their hand-joined fabrication in local, affordable materials.

“I appreciate the traditional techniques of craftsmanship,” Tokyo-based architect Yasuhiro Yamashita says of minkas’ careful construction. Not everyone agrees. Japan’s diminishing population since a 2006 peak, in combination with urbanization, changing tastes, and other phenomena, has left 13 percent of these houses vacant. “Most of the time the abandoned houses get dismantled or burned, or they rot naturally,” Yamashita notes.

The potential loss of heritage has grown so severe that a nonprofit group has even formed to stem the problem. The Japan Minka Reuse and Recycle Association was established in 1997. In 2001 it reconstructed an Okazaki City–area minka in London’s Kew Gardens in 2001, in collaboration with British builders, and today it counts 2,000 members.

One saved farmhouse would make little dent in Shimane Prefecture, where as many as 100,000 old houses are abandoned. Yamashita visited this southwestern province four years ago, and there he realized that the empty minkas could be harvested for their parts. Immediately afterward he launched the Old Minka House Project within his 19-year-old firm Atelier Tekuto. “Besides being a way to break through this situation, the Japanese cycle of tree planting and felling is not working presently, and it’s difficult to obtain quality wood materials,” Yamashita adds. Old Minka House Project is dedicated to reusing vintage houses in whole or part for Atelier Tekuto’s commissions. It is in its early phases, as Yamashita is still archiving minkas worthy of saving. Yet—and despite the roughly $30,000 required to dismantle a minka—the firm has begun storing parts in a warehouse. And it has applied some of those

Best Green Houses: T-House
Photo © Toshihiro Sobajima 
 
Best Green Houses: T-House
Atelier Tekuto
Japan
… For T-House, an 804-square-foot residence in Tokyo’s Setagaya neighborhood…

Best Green Houses: T-House
Photo © Toshihiro Sobajima 
 
…Atelier Tekuto transformed minka salvage into beams…
Best Green Houses: T-House
Photo © Toshihiro Sobajima
…about which Yamashita says, “It’s difficult to adapt reclaimed materials to current building codes.” …

Photo © Toshihiro Sobajima

…as well as counters, floors…

Best Green Houses: T-House
Photo © Toshihiro Sobajima 

…and other finishes…

Best Green Houses: T-House
Photo © Toshihiro Sobajima

…The warm, organic interior provides counterpoint to the crisp, jauntily angled wedge in which it’s housed… 


Photo © Toshihiro Sobajima

Best Green Houses: Jyu-Ko
Atelier Tekuto
Japan
… Another project called Jyu-Ko…

Photo © Toshihiro Sobajima

…located in Fukushima Prefecture…
Photo © Toshihiro Sobajima

…expands a still-standing 120-year-old minka to 2,390 square feet…

Best Green Houses: Jyu-Ko
Photo © Toshihiro Sobajima

…in order to accommodate the client’s oldest daughter and her new husband…

Best Green Houses: Jyu-Ko

Photo © Toshihiro Sobajima

… In addition to building contextual new space…

Best Green Houses: Jyu-Ko
Photo © Toshihiro Sobajima 
…Atelier Tekuto structurally reinforced and re-insulated the historic house and its existing extensions…
Best Green Houses: Jyu-Ko
Photo © Toshihiro Sobajima

…while cleaning up its circulation…
Best Green Houses: Jyu-Ko
Photo © Toshihiro Sobajima 

… The design team also replaced traditional roof tiles…
Best Green Houses: Jyu-Ko
Photo © Toshihiro Sobajima

…with glass versions…
Best Green Houses: Jyu-Ko
Photo © Toshihiro Sobajima 

…in order to admit more daylight into the original interior, which had been darkened by broad eaves…
Best Green Houses: Yachiyo
Photo © Toshihiro Sobajima 
 
Best Green Houses: Yachiyo
Atelier Tekuto
Japan
… Most dramatically, Atelier Tekuto has relocated vernacular structures under the auspices of the Old Minka House Project—as far away as Ethiopia, in the case of one pavilion. Closer to home, for a second home and workshop in Kanagawa Prefecture, “We moved two disused small warehouses and adapted various materials to current needs and structural standards,” says Yamashita…
Best Green Houses: Yachiyo
Photo © Toshihiro Sobajima

… In this design, dubbed Yachiyo, the 100- and 120-year-old warehouses intersect in a folding gesture…
Best Green Houses: Yachiyo

Photo © Toshihiro Sobajima

…the resulting volume is then covered in a new, faceted envelope made of furring strips and composite-cement-board cladding…
Best Green Houses: Yachiyo
Photo © Toshihiro Sobajima 

… In the spirit of reuse, old transom windows are transformed into Yachiyo’s front door, bricks reclaimed from an obsolete Shanghai factory line the ground floor, and the interior doesn’t hide its pedigree generally. Yet the exterior of the building is of our time…
Best Green Houses: Yachiyo
Photo © Toshihiro Sobajima 

… Japanese homeowners and architects haven’t come around to minkas as quickly as he has, Yamashita says…
Best Green Houses: Yachiyo

Photo © Toshihiro Sobajima

…but he hopes that his employment of traditional architectural forms and contemporary geometries like Yachiyo’s, not to mention widespread concern for the environment, will quicken a still-nascent trend of house-recycling.
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