Split Machiya House in Tokyo by Atelier Bow-Wow

split machiya high up view

View from opposite building – Akane with her daily green tea latte. Notice the window in the chimney like space on top.

Split Machiya neighbour

Similar in scale to surrounding buildings but less ornate compared to this one on its right.

The house is situated on a little street that branches off a larger street.

The house is situated on a little street that branches off a larger street.

This little project by Atelier Bow-Wow is about a 5 minute walk from their house and office in Shinjuku. The other interns and I often pass this house on our way to and back from lunch, and also our daily dose of Starbucks. It ‘s actually tucked away in a little no-exit street off a larger street, meaning you have to know it’s there to veer off onto this smaller street to see the house.

Split Machiya context

The neighbouring buildings were equally small and kawaii!

In a recent lecture by Tsukamoto-san he explains the machiya typology as a Japanese version of the townhouse. It was originally developed in western parts of Japan like Kyoto and Kanazawa from the Edo period. There are strong characteristics of the machiya but it is not dissimilar to town houses in England or Netherlands. A feature of the machiya is it’s adjacency to it’s neighbour. This is rare in Tokyo as most typologies are detached houses. It is also a narrow and long space with a site area of only 65 sqm and a building area of 27sqm (58sqm total). ABW has completed several other machiyas such as the Tower Machiya and Tread Machiya. Tsukamoto-san explains that this century old typology is still very much relevant today when applied and interpreted in a contemporary way.

Split machiya Section

This particular machiya  is called ‘split’ machiya as the house is split into two. It is made up of two tiny houses 29sqm each, one three storey high and the other two storey. There is a concrete foundation on the ground level that acts as a retaining wall to the garden which is raised slightly from the street level. The two houses are connected by a giant bench which is essentially an exterior corridor. The left house has a kitchen but no bathroom and the right house has bathroom but no kitchen. Therefore the two have to rely on each other to function though they are separate structures. The central garden space connects the two volumes and also provides sun and wind into the house.

Visiting the house bought a smile to my face, it seems to be just the right scale and fits right in with the other four or so similarly sized but also unique houses. However once you look at the section is does provide a variety of spaces without feeling too compact. The thinness of the roof is another feature giving a sense of lightness. The interior looks quite unique as well with copper finishes in the dining area. For more photos visit ABW’s site here and also photographer Manuel Oka’s site.


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