logo image

Small House in Kobe by Fujiwaramuro


Photo by Toshiyuki Yano via japan-architects.com


I love finding houses in obscure, tight or difficult spaces. There’s something satisfying about squeezing every bit of space into something productive, whether in the name of necessity, density, efficiency, or ridiculously high land values. As this house is in urban Japan, I’d guess the latter is the main motivation for building a house on a site many Americans would consider insufficiently wide for a car.

In any case, Fujiwaramuro Architects have become one of my favorite firms in this genre, and not only because their name is so pleasing to say out loud. This particular house is 680 s.f., built on a 400 s.f. lot that is under 12 ft wide. (For comparison, a new apartment the size of this lot would barely be legal in New York).

Based on the photos (still waiting for a site plan or other info), it appears the architects chose to go up to the sky, rather than fill the lot entirely, which allows room for a vehicle, and orients the house vertically around a central light well.

Light well shining down on the living level (2nd floor). Photo by Toshiyuki Yano.

Light well shining down on the living level (2nd floor). Photo by Toshiyuki Yano.


Wood-slat flooring allows daylight from above to penetrate the lowest floor, which has a generous entryway.


Ground floor / Entry. Photo by Toshiyuki Yano.

Ground floor / Entry. Photo by Toshiyuki Yano.


It’s difficult to see how much light actually makes it down in this photo, but the sense of continuous, connected spaces is important in overcoming the claustrophobic widths of the house. This can be seen on the sleeping level as well.

View through the main bedroom to the kid's bedroom across the light well. Photo by Toshiyuki Yano.

View through the main bedroom to the kid’s bedroom across the light well. Photo by Toshiyuki Yano.


It seems free-flowing spaces and overcoming claustrophobia is especially important because there are very few windows. Even on the end facades where there might be plenty of space devoted to windows, there are only a few small ones, keeping attention on the light well.

Courtesy of Fujiwaramura Architects

Courtesy of Fujiwaramura Architects


And it is really all about the light well – every space in the house depends on it. And I like the details like the custom glass table and the shelving that serves as a visual ladder up the well.

These images raise questions and/or concerns:

  • How does one get to the sleeping level? I see stairs from the ground to first floor, but do you need to climb a ladder to go to bed? That seems a bit limiting.
  • Relatedly, it appears the only way to get to the bathroom from the bedroom is to go down two floors to the ground level. While not a deal-breaker, it definitely makes this house more idiosyncratic than a typical generic infill house.
  • Privacy and noise control is definitely a low priority in a house with few doors, including between bedrooms. Or perhaps this is a feature of Japanese homes that I’ve missed?

I’ve sent Fujiwaramuro an email with these questions, so hopefully they’ll be able to respond, perhaps with more detailed drawings. However, any other input or insight is welcome as well.

Nevertheless, I’d say this is a pretty sleek solution to a very tight lot.


One Response

  1. […] problem of light access pretty well – a common design challenge for skinny infill houses like this, where bringing daylight to the center of the building can mean the difference between livable […]

Leave a Reply