MUJI House announces the 陽の家 (Yō no Ie, Sun House)
On 13th September, 2019, MUJI House announced the release of 陽の家 – Yō no Ie (Sun House), its fourth creation since they debuted the ambitiously simple 木の家 – Ki no Ie (Wood House) in 2004. Conceived as an alternative to conventional commercial homes in Japan which start depreciating as soon as they are sold and typically get demolished within 30 years or so, MUJI houses aspire to stay reliable and relevant for decades, if not centuries, helping in the long run to shape the true meaning of a “rich life” for their owners and community.
MUJI house – a highly functional, empty box
MUJI’s answer to a seemingly contradicting goal to offer a long-lasting yet completely flexible/editable house was quite unusual (and Japanese). First, they came up with a very sturdy frame called SE structure. It is a framework made of minimum number of load-bearing wooden pillars and beams uniquely engineered and enhanced to be strong and earth quake-proof. This eliminated the need for load-bearing walls, so MUJI removed them all. What’s left was so-called “一室空間(one-room house),” an empty space that could be freely edited by using furniture such as bookcases or closets as room dividers. MUJI items from small to large fit together nicely because they are designed using standardized modules that are based on body size. Owners can change the layout flexibly as their needs change – as their children grow, as they take up new hobbies or priorities. (read more about MUJI House)
MUJI’s “one-room house” is supported by another important functionality: high insulation capacity. Since the air travels through the entire house in the absence of interior walls, MUJI put a lot of effort into air circulation/energy efficiency so that the entire living area can be kept comfortable with minimum expenditure of energy. Their products are certified as level 4 (the highest) of the national building standard for insulation.
The Yō no Ie retains the philosophy of the one-room house with high functionality. So what’s new about it? Simply put, it is MUJI’s first single-story house. That may not sound revolutionary, but it showcases an important shift in our value systems and lifestyle as we wade deeper into the post-modern era.
Kawachi says, “Up until now, most of the MUJI house buyers were first time home owners in their late 30s.” They typically lived in semi-urban or suburban areas suitable for commuting and raising small children. But over the last 15 years, MUJI house fans have steadily increased and spread throughout the country. “More customers, especially in Kyushu area, are asking for the hiraya house,” Kyushu is in the southern part of Japan where there are vast rural areas. Presumably, more people are interested in the semi-suburban/rural life rather than urban-suburban. Maybe because real estate is becoming very affordable in rural areas as population started shrinking in Japan. Maybe because young generations are gravitated toward natural life as competitive urban environment became too stressful, or as more flexible work style is becoming possible thanks to the Internet. And when people think about owning a house in rural areas, many of them want an hiraya, a Japanese style single-story house. “The demand for hiraya is on a rise recently, and the national statistics say so.”
Hiraya – the traditional Japanese single-story house
It’s interesting to hear that hiraya – which literally means “flat house” in traditional Japanese architecture – is making a comeback. As traditional buildings were almost exclusively made of wood in Japan, they often had to be hiraya considering structural strength of the materials. Hiraya’s horizontal vector/expansion is familiar to the Japanese, and reminds them of the traditional life style that is closely connected with the surrounding environment. As a matter of fact, the hiraya lay almost level with the surrounding land, connected with “engawa,” – the exposed peripheral hallways that surround the rooms – that people would flow backwards and forwards, inside and out, with great freedom.
So, MUJI re-imagined the hiraya in a modern semi-suburban/rural setting, where land is still easy to acquire and the natural environment hasn’t been wiped away. The message is clear. The Yō no Ie connects you directly yet neatly with the yard/garden so that you can embrace the surrounding environment as part of your life. Kawachi recollected, “We have tried many options – the patio at the center of the property, the exterior garden. But after two years of experiments, we landed on the simplest house we’ve ever designed, and you face directly with the outer environment.”
The Yō no Ie – The ultimate simple single-story house
To be clear, simple is never about less work with MUJI. It’s actually the opposite, as you can see, because subtraction is always more difficult than addition if you want to keep high aesthetic and functional standards. “We pursued perfect universality so that this house can be used by any generation and in any circumstances. This can be your last home if you choose,” Hara proudly announced. “We’ve done a thorough review of what it would mean to interact with the garden neatly,” Hara said. “I supervised the Yō no Ie as a designer, not as an architect who would view the entire house as a piece of architecture. My focus has always been on the immediate living environment – maybe a three meters radius,” he smiles, “and that’s how I approached and nailed the details of Yō no Ie.”
And those efforts are obvious to see in the Yō no Ie. There are many elements that would make you feel “just right” as you engage in different activities – sit on a wood deck, clean the floor, fix meals in the kitchen or just relax on a couch. “That’s what you might have found with the MUJI Hotel (which opened in Ginza, Tokyo earlier this year),” Hara mentioned. “It was a very simple hotel with no frills, but a lot of effort had been put to make peripheral areas and elements just right. We pursued the same level of perfection in details of Yō no Ie.
- Wood deck and window frames
The highlight of the Yō no Ie is the large wood deck that extends and links the interior to the outside environment. In order to make the experiences on the deck agreeable and inspiring, MUJI added some interesting details. For example, there are small recessed areas where you can place a BBQ pit, or even a small vegetable garden. “When we had a photo session, I realized that people wanted to sit there and hang around,” Hara mentioned. “The area can be a stage to do semi-outdoor activities without too much effort.” If you don’t want to engage in fully-fledged gardening but want to grow a few vegetables for your BBQ, you can use this kind of small area.
In terms of technical details, MUJI worked hard on the areas that connect inside to outside. First, the size of the glass doors. They use the widest frames commercially available today to make the opening as large as possible. And the interior and the wood deck is set on the same level, including the frame (there are no bumps) so you can simply slide a table from inside to outside (probably even wheelchairs). Cleaning will also be seamless since maintenance is usually the most tedious part of having a wood deck.
We recently visited the model house of the Yō no Ie located in Isumi-City, Chiba, Japan. Other design details will be covered in the following posts very soon, so stay tuned.