by Suzanne Miao on May 20, 2013 in Architecture
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Apart from his trademark blue t-shirts, award-winning Japanese architect Takaharu Tezuka has made his mark designing buildings which are as much for the people who use them as they are in and of their surroundings

Takaharu Tezuka may have travelled all over the world, lived in various countries and been exposed to many different cultures and ways of thinking, but an undeniable — and perhaps even indefinable — sense of ‘Japanese-ness’ informs and is apparent in his work. Rather than reach for the sky to create buildings which are tall and thin, a lot of his works are low and wide. “I am of course happy to do highrises,” he says. “In fact, I am working on one now. But the tendency of my design is something to do with Japanese-ness: houses are supposed to be connected to their surroundings and the land at all times.”

His clients, he says, are people “trying to stay on the ground because they feel it is more natural; they tend to have families, they like the outdoors… My work attracts that kind of client.”

The greatest example of this is, without doubt, his widely-acclaimed Roof House, created in 2001 and frequently cited as an example of what can be achieved when client and architect are acutely attuned to each other. The house was designed for a family who wanted to literally live on the roof of their home — as much as legally and humanly possible, of course.

Tezuka responded by moving significant portions of what would normally be indoor activities to the roof: a kitchen, dining area, lounge and even a shower. “It is the first and last house to be built in Japan without handrails for the roof,” he says. “When other architects try to design without handrails and point to my house when their application is rejected, the authorities always tell them ‘yes, that is exactly why it is now banned’.”

And as for that outdoor shower, the clients use it judiciously and with due respect for their neighbours. “I remember the client called me one time and said ‘Takaharu, there is nothing better than to take a hot shower outdoors in a cold typhoon — but don’t worry, I was wearing a t-shirt, too’.”

The story of Roof House has become one of Tezuka’s most widely-related anecdotes on his extensive lecture tours. It would be easy to assume that visiting so many different countries would influence or change his own inherent ‘Japanese-ness’ as an architect.   Travel, in fact, has only reinforced that tendency — Tezuka considers the idea and says, “Yes, I would be a different architect, because I would not know what we have lost.”

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