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The Nonchalant Family Home: A No. 555 Design in Utazu, Japan

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The Nonchalant Family Home: A No. 555 Design in Utazu, Japan

January 23, 2023

Tokyo architectural firm No. 555 celebrates everyday life by building in an enchanting casualness. Their domestic designs are explorations of ease and practicality—always approached using humble, commercial building materials in ways that call for double takes. See, for instance, the Vertical Alley, their live/work tower for a couple in Tokyo, and their Wabi-Sabi Surf Shack built from insulation blocks and tarps.

Known internally as Cell (Nut), this unassuming house was commissioned by a couple—a businessman and a kindergarten teacher—with three kids who were returning to Utazu, their hometown in Japan’s Kagawa Prefecture, to be close to both sets of grandparents. The single-story, bunker-like main structure opens to a grid of linked rooms designed to create a communal spirit and to easily evolve as the family’s needs change (scroll to the end to see a floor plan). Out back, there’s a two-story folly of sorts: a tower that provides storage, work space, and an additional place to play. Not coincidentally, the numbers 555 signify change and new beginnings of a decidedly positive sort.

Photography courtesy of No. 555.

located in utazu&#8\2\17;s old town within walking distance of all the gran 9
Above: Located in Utazu’s old town within walking distance of all the grandparents, the structure is finished in Belgian cement board and harmonizes height-wise with the neighboring traditional houses. Its entry and the interior passageways, principal architect Takaya Tsuchida explains, are abstracted versions of torii, the gates fronting Japanese temples and shrines that mark the transition from the mundane to the sacred. Utazu is filled with historic monuments and Tsuchida says they took these gates—and visions of children frolicking around them—as inspiration.
the all over open shelving of waxed larch plywood is admittedly not for neatnik 10
Above: The all-over open shelving of waxed larch plywood is admittedly not for neatniks, but provides convenient landing places for plants, toys, books, and sunglasses. The wide central entry, Tsuchida says, is designed to make visitors “feel free to enter the space easily.” The grandparents, he adds, look after the youngest children, “so the sense of atmosphere was imporant and we wanted to find it in our plan.”

The structural supports are the same painted wood-wool cement board as on the exterior and the partitions are painted plywood. The floor is concrete with a water-repellent finish.

the steel wood stove is a custom design. 11
Above: The steel wood stove is a custom design.
the life of the house revolves around the central kitchen and dining area. 12
Above: The life of the house revolves around the central kitchen and dining area.
the dining table is another no. 555 steel framed design with a top of reinforce 13
Above: The dining table is another No. 555 steel-framed design with a top of reinforced cement board. Cement board was also used to build the kitchen island topped with stainless steel.

That’s the entry closet room beyond the wood stove. The glass doors—framed in wood finished with Osmo white wood wax—lead to the sunroom.

the bedrooms are partitioned with curtains. the kids sleep on futons that are r 14
Above: The bedrooms are partitioned with curtains. The kids sleep on futons that are rolled up by day. Of the contiguous spaces, Tsuchida says, “The goal is to be a home that always adapts to the family. By connecting, dividing, and moving, the grid accepts future changes—a child’s room may become a future reading room or hobby room. The space divides cells.”
Above L: Each bedroom has a built-in desk. Suspended overhead wood panels provide additional storage. Above R: The lone family bath has a wide enameled-steel sink made by Toto for lab use. The bathtub is by Kaldewei; it’s an inset model that the architects chose to expose and support on steel legs. In lieu of tiling, the walls are constructed of waterproof FRP (fiber-reinforced polymer) panels treated with a top coat of white paint.
the house is in a neighborhood of traditional houses. it has an frp (fiber rein 17
Above: The house is in a neighborhood of traditional houses. It has an FRP (fiber-reinforced polymer) roof, a waterproof sheeting material used in commercial construction. The border plantings are native to Australia—Kagawa Prefecture has a warm climate akin to Australia’s, architect Kano Hirano explains. “The Australian plants have a wild appearance that matches the surface of the building. That’s why we chose them.”
a tarp provides shade for the sun room. 18
Above: A tarp provides shade for the sun room.
  the &#8\2\20;annex &#8\2\2\1; is stepped back from the road. &am 19
Above:  The “annex ” is stepped back from the road. “Without breaking the townscape,” the architects say, it serves as “a secret base.”
the annex is use to store bikes and other equipment and as a workshop. 20
Above: The annex is use to store bikes and other equipment and as a workshop.
the plywood paneled upstairs offers prime views of the town and has become a ki 21
Above: The plywood paneled upstairs offers prime views of the town and has become a kid’s hideout.
a 3 d plan of the flexible gridwork interior. 22
Above: A 3-D plan of the flexible gridwork interior.

Here are three more residential projects by No. 555:

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