4 × 4 House

Tadao Ando (*1941)

Today we’ll be looking at a residential house by one of the leading Japanese architects, Tadao Ando. He is an interesting person—a former boxer with no formal training in architecture is certainly not the kind of man you would expect to win the Pritzker Prize (in 1995). His buildings embody the Japanese idea of zen. They are simple and practical, giving the mind and heart, not just the body, a space to dwell.

In this house, aptly named 4 × 4 House, the simplicity of the construction lets the concepts shine. Firstly, the concept of four. The tiny building is 4 stories tall. Every story has a square, 4 m by 4 m footprint. The structure is crowned by a cube that’s also 4 m by 4 m by 4 m. And, as if it wasn’t enough, the large window, that takes up a whole side of the cube, is divided into 4 equal square sections. (4 m is equal to roughly 13 feet.)

As you can see in the rendition above, the house is quite small. This was caused mainly by the regulations set in place to protect the shoreline, which is gradually receding. Shoreline erosion in Japan is a real problem caused by the real global climate change. Yet I don’t think this limited Tadao Ando as much as it would a Western architect, since the Japanese don’t assume a small house means the owners are poor. For some, living small means living more beautifully.

The second concept is the harmony with nature. This might sound a bit surreal when you look at the austere concrete building, but actually the view from the fourth floor is something amazing. Although 4 × 4 House is a residential building, the whole structure was built to offer the most wonderful view of the Awaji Island and the Akashi Kaikyō Bridge. Perhaps the best pigeonhole for it would be a lighthouse, a residential building with a lookout.

As you can imagine, the staircase takes up a significant part of those 4 by 4 meters floors. Therefore each one only has one function. On the ground floor you will find the bathroom; on the first floor the bedroom; on the third an office and in the cube is the living room combined with a kitchen and a dining room. It is small, but since it’s only inhabited by one person, it’s enough.

Now this is where this post could end. I have covered what I know of the 4 × 4 House. Luckily for all the fans of this 2003 structure, Tadao Ando has completed 4 × 4 House II.

4 × 4 House II is a mirror image of the original, but built with different materials and with an elevator instead of the staircase.

After the completion of the original 4×4 House, another client came and asked me to design one for him. I suggested that the house be built on an adjacent lot but be constructed of wood.

—Tadao Ando


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