Imafuku Residence

A concept design followed by project management for a residential project
2007, Fujisawa, Japan


photos of completed project with mock-up models

Main Liaison, Full Design and Project Management for Imafuku Residence (under GKK Architects and Engineers). This residential project consisted of the tearing down of half of a 50-year-old single-storey timber house belonging to the grandmother to clear land to accomodate a new double-storey cantilevered timber house which would house her son, his wife and their two young children (a boy and girl ages 7 and 12 respectively).

While the actual demolition and reinforcement of the old house as well as the construction of the new house spanned half a year (which in itself is considered long for a residential project of similar scale), the design process was long-drawn and had already undergone a few phases stretching over a year before I took over. There was initial reluctance on the part of the widowed grandmother to see her marital home and its mature garden of 50-years being torn down and the general hesitation on whether the new house should link with the old one or be kept as a separate entity. After several more design proposals (and many more burnt weekends), one design finally won over the family.

Being a writer, the design challenge was to house the owner’s extensive collection of books as a double volume load-bearing ‘FEATURE wall’. Level one of the house was set back from the site boundary to accomodate the family car while the second level was cantilevered to provide shade to the porch below. The cantilever of 1.8m was a structural feat for timber construction and was achieved by using double laminated timber joists of 270mm depth at 900mm intervals. The ‘top heavy’ second floor was then tied back and anchored down by strategically placed load-bearing walls throughout the depth of the house.

Apart from the structural aspect, other design detail touches include translucent FRP toplight partitioning, allowing Southern sunlight in, creating a light airy feel throughout the house. Along with carefully selected zero-emission insulation for the external shell of the house and strategically placed under-floor-heating sheets to protect the family from winter chill. In addition, an open trapezoidal wooden deck from the new house was constructed to just underlay the roof of the old house to catch and drain away rainwater, thus preventing backflow from seeping into the new wall where the old house was ‘severed’. Upon request of the owner, the raw timber construction was mostly left exposed as he liked the ‘rustic’ design language and saw the opportunity to incorporate more bookshelf space between spacer columns.

The entire construction process allowed me as site-architect and project manager to work closely with a small team of highly-skilled carpenters. I was rewarded by being able to add some personal finishing touches especially with the reuse of rock boulders, an old forgotten tsukubai converted into a garden light and other relics (unearthed during the demolition and would otherwise be thrown away) as well as saving a particular shrub (grandmother told me she used to make sake from its berries for grandfather) in the re-creation of Grandmother Imafuku’s garden, which was my surprise ‘gift’ to her. These personal touches made the project so much more meaningful and memorable for me and I hope, for its occupants as well.