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Architectural Record, April, 2004

A Record House Twin

By Naomi Pollock

On its completion in 2003, Tadao Ando’s 4 x 4 House, in Kobe, Japan, stood as a tiny concrete tower that didn’t look or act like a house and, bracketed between a busy street and the Inland Sea, didn’t even have another home nearby. Equally unorthodox, 4 x 4 was the product of a trendy magazine’s mail-in survey that had matched up the client, a concrete contractor, with the world-famous architect.

A clean, direct solution to an owner’s needs and a site’s constraints, 4 x 4 was also, on a deeper level, an architect’s personal response to the shocking devastation wrought by the Great Hanshin Earthquake. Ando purposefully made the house tall enough to provide views of the epicenter’s location, on Awaji Island, directly across the water. With a diminutive footprint, measuring 4-by-4-meters, the building stood alone like a lighthouse, exposed and vulnerable to wind and sea.

From the start, the architect dreamed of someday building an addition: a separate but connected structure. But fate intervened. After the first house’s completion, another client approached Ando, requesting a 4 x 4 of his own. Despite the uniqueness of the first tower, the designer embraced the idea, even suggesting that the new house stand right beside the old one—on land owned, but now leased out, by the original client. This time, though, the architect agreed to use wood, his new client’s preference, instead of concrete.

The concrete-contractor-turned-client (and now next-door neighbor) who had built the 4 x 4 House I also erected “The Sequel,” as Ando dubs it. Both buildings have essentially one function per floor. But the use of wood versus concrete only subtly distinguishes the duo. While the new tower has a laminated-pine structural frame and Paulownia wood flooring, its exterior cement-board cladding bears a strong resemblance to the sibling building’s exposed concrete. Only at The Sequel’s corners, where the architect pulls back the panels, does he reveal timber on the exterior.

While the two houses share practically the same massing and dimensions, they are not identical twins. The most significant difference is in the vertical circulation. Ando gave the newcomer an elevator and, instead of the original space-consuming, standard switchback stairs, L-shaped runs hug the building’s edges. By pushing the stairway to the perimeter, Ando could tidy up the top-floor configuration and create a perfect cube for the most important space: the combined kitchen-living-dining room, with Awaji Island views.

As mirror images, the blocky tops of the two buildings jut toward each other. “By creating paired structures, resembling a gate opening out toward the sea, I hope to reinforce the connection of architecture to the place,” explains Ando. Together, two towers may make a larger statement than one, but this near replication weakens the profound message conveyed by a solitary, asymmetrical sentinel.

Click images to see larger.
Along a commercial strip on the outskirts of Kobe, the new tower (above in photo, right) occupies a tiny, previously vacant site (below) next door to the original 4 x 4 House.Photo © Fujitsuka Mitsumasa (above); Mitsuo Matsuoka (Bottom)
Ando’s original sketch (below-inset) anticipated a separate volume as an addition, but not a second tower as built (above). Photo © Fujitsuka Mitsumasa (above).
The original layout in RECORD published in 2004.

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