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House Plan: James Soane on Holl's Fukuoka housing

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In the latest instalment of the AJ’s ongoing series looking at influential housing plans, James Soane chooses Steven Holl’s ‘poetic’ homes in Fukuoka, Japan

Having written my dissertation on Steven Holl I was already familiar with his housing scheme in Fukuoka, Japan (1991). I was initially drawn to Holl’s narrative approach to his architecture and the spareness of his drawings. It was a contrast to the epic flourishes of Zaha, Morphosis and Libeskind that were doing the rounds. His water colour sketch is both specific and yet lyrical; it is accurate in terms of a three dimensional representation but a million miles away from the photo-real CGI’s that proliferate today.

The scheme itself has a delightful cross section with fingers of accommodation set on a single storey curved plinth that has a reflecting black pool on the roof plane. The cast concrete of the slab blocks register the section of the apartments showing the location of the stairs and changes in level. Windows are arranged differently for each apartment again expressing the individuality of each unit type. The rear of the building is all concrete with cascades of steel fire escapes coming to the ground.

Revisiting Holl’s own account of the project some 25 years later, I am struck by the poetic language used to describe the work:

‘Four quiet south-facing voids interlock with four active north-facing voids to bring a sense of the sacred into direct contact with everyday domestic life. To ensure emptiness, the south voids are flooded with water; the sun reflects off them, flickering across the ceiling of the north courts and their apartments’.1

I was lucky enough to visit the building as it was being launched and able to wander around the apartments. The light does indeed reflect off the ceilings and wateriness of the painted sketch is somehow embodied in the built reality.

1 Holl, S. Intertwining. New York: Princeton Architectural Press 1996

James Soane is co-founder of Project Orange

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