Courtyard House by Japanese architect Kouichi Kimura is a family residence located at the edge of a low-rise suburban enclave in Japan's Shiga prefecture. The two key issues that have informed the architect’s design are privacy and location. To ensure the former and take advantage of the latter, the house has been built in a U shape, with all spaces arranged around a courtyard while turning its back to neighbouring buildings and facing the farms and fields that stretch beyond.
The house keeps with the proportions of the pitched-roof neighbouring residences with a sloping profile on the back, but stands out in its blocky geometric volumes flanking the courtyard on the front and its corrugated metal cladding. Placed amidst the darker wooden structures of the adjacent homes and the greenery of the farming fields, the minimal, pale grey metal sheets make for a calming juxtaposition, blending into its surroundings as a “white canvas” counterpart.
The entrance to the residence is framed, on both sides, by low walls alluding to the ceremonial nature of the Torii gate –a shrine entrance– next door. Inside, all the living areas are incorporated into a single space and face the gravelled courtyard, a small “Zen garden”, and the fields in the distance, framed by a low rise wall and the side blocks. This elevation is the only one that is open visually towards the exterior, as the other sides have either clerestory windows or curtained-off glazing in auxiliary spaces, ensuring complete privacy. The residents are thus literally urged to turn their gaze towards the natural landscape; this visual focal point is also marked by a linear water channel planted with grass which cuts the terrace in the middle and leads the eye to the framed view of nature outside.
The open-plan living area blends into the courtyard through a fully glazed wall featuring sliding doors and the use of common materials such as white-washed walls and concrete finishes. A series of raised platforms and sitting ledges create a “landscaped” interior as well as form distinct areas without visually dividing the space, seen for example in the thick concrete frame around the glazed wall that can be used for both sitting and as a terrace. The dining area at the back is elevated on a concrete stage, whereas the study on the side is cordoned off with a concrete ridge. The bedrooms and bathrooms are located on the flanks of the building.