ALPINE ARCHITECTURE: L HOUSE BY FLORIAN BUSCH
Alpine architecture presents unique challenges and opportunities for creating shelters that can both protect and enrich the life of the dwellers. Slopes are more extreme and space often more open. At its best architecture is able to roll the functional requirements into a form that merges into the emerges from the landscape while echoing its rhythm and flow.
The L House in Hirafu was built as a private holiday residence in the fast-growing ski village of Hirafu – the most popular village in Niseko, Hokkaido. Behind an escarpment drops quickly towards a river at its foot then stretches across grass fields before a forest rises ever more densely towards the base of the inactive volcano mountain called Yotei. The topography of the site is defined by a steep slope located on the edge of a forest sparse on its edges and denser as one moves towards Mount Yotei. Directionally it is ideally situated to breathe in panoramic views of the natural beauty of Mount Yotei. The mountain confers to this site an ever present dramatic component that helps define a keen sense of place.
A conventional residential structure would have required costly excavation of the mountain including heavy reinforced concrete retaining walls. In an effort to both reduce costs and maximize the view Florian Busch Architects offered a solution that effectively split the the house horizontally. In winter, from a distance, it appears as though the top and bottom of the box-shaped house have been evenly split and then pivoted on a single back corners. Viewed abstractly it can be seen as a multilevel form rising towards the escarpment it stands below.
“…at the edge of a forest, on the slope of an escarpment”
Geometric outer forms result in simple spaces inside. One enters the house below the overhang of the upper volume. Private bedrooms and bathrooms occupy the lower levels that are high enough to enjoy views of the valley flowing below. Cantilevered timber stairs connect the first floor with the upper volume’s living room and kitchen spaces. The roomy living and kitchen area extends directly onto a terrace sitting on the roof of the lower level box. A luxurious open air bath simultaneously offers absolute privacy together with a profound view of the natural treasures of Niseko.
The structure’s shell is a light-colored wood siding reinforced below by a concrete wall. This is important as the roof is flat, unusual for Niseko given the winter snowfall exceeds 8 meters during the season. Conventional buildings here have angles roofs that “self clean” under the sun’s glare during daylight. The L House by contrast retains much of the fallen snow which acts as insulation from the surrounding cold winds. Large panoramic windows frame breathtaking views of snow-covered Mount Yotei with smaller windows strategically placed throughout the house to let in natural light. On a purely aesthetic level, as one approaches the house site on foot it visually emerges from the escarpment in the same way as a large rock or gathering of trees would. Its presence is not obvious. This in itself is a significant achievement rarely found in Hirafu where most of the buildings shout their presence through color, form or material. The L House is subtle, refined and emits a feeling of existence similar to the trees it stands among.
“to achieve a synthesis between what is found at the site, and what is added to it”
Whilst the upper level remains an entirely open space, the lower level exhibits some walls of division, shaping unique private coves for reading, resting and entertainment. The matte cold of the bare concrete walls is balanced by the warm wood plank flooring running throughout the house, an interior reminder of the forest it nestles within. Recessed lighting permits an uninhibited perspective of the building’s flow of form. During daylight dweller’s eyes gravitate to the outdoor scenery and indoor activities are sufficiently illuminated by natural light L House excels as a cave to shelter in. Florian Busch’s thoughtful, understated design provides the luxury of privacy and openness all within a form that feels like it belongs where it stands.
LOCATION: Niseko, Hokkaido, Japan
ARCHITECT: Florian Busch, Sachiko Miyazaki, Tomoyuki Sudo, Holger Pausch (intern)
STRUCTURAL ENGINEERING: Ove Arup Japan (Masamichi Sasatani, Kengo Takamatsu)
CONTRACTOR: Sudo Corporation
CLIENT: Hokkaido Tracks
GROSS FLOOR AREA: 154 m² + 44 m² terrace
MATERIAL: Reinforced Concrete
WEBSITE: FLORIAN BUSCH ARCHITECTS
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