Text description provided by the architects. Tomi House is located in Niigata Prefecture’s Yuzawa, a town notable for its particularly heavy snowfall. Our first introduction to the site was in January of 2015. By the side of a neatly cleared road rose a mountain of snow four meters or so high. “This is it” we were told. Our brief was to build an open and spacious house from which this family of four, inundated by snow for half the year, could comfortably enjoy the surrounding greenery and starry skies.
Through necessity, dwellings in the area are typically built on raised concrete foundations, elevating the living space high above ground level. After considering the clients’ everyday needs and ways to incorporate outdoor space into the building, as well as discussing the new living environment they hoped to create, we settled on a three floor design. The third floor houses the entrance and a shared living space. The second floor is divided into modestly-sized 5sqm private rooms.
The ground floor comprises the raised concrete foundations. This space would normally serve as a garage, enveloped completely in concrete and blocked off from light and fresh air. We opted to open the space up wide, creating an airy and bright expanse to act as a pleasant gathering place for the family, if not the entire neighborhood. Taking full advantage of the parameters outlined in the local building convention, known as the “Code Exception for Raised-floor Housing in Areas of Heavy Snowfall”, we set about pouring the wall-height reinforced concrete foundations. Atop the foundations, rather than pouring a reinforced concrete slab as is typical, we laid a light wood frame, on top of which sits the two-storey house.
The wood frame makes use of a reciprocal structure, keeping structural materials to a minimum while making the 5.4m-wide opening and dynamic 1.5m overhang possible. The resulting underfloor area, below this light wooden frame reminiscent of a gazebo ceiling, suggests a critical approach to this type of building and its unique challenges, while strictly adhering to local regulations and local vernacular and with the highest safety standards in mind.
Inhabitants of the local area must contend not only with winter’s harsh northwest winds and unforgiving snowstorms, but also the summer sun’s unrelenting heat. In order to create a stable and comfortable environment within the house all year round, we wrapped the building in a long stair extending up to the third-floor entrance, as well as multiple terraces, creating a buffer zone which can be used as both windbreak and sunroom. This blurred line between interior and exterior allows the house to adapt to suit the climate, and needs, of the moment, allowing flexibility of lifestyle and a greater perception of spaciousness.
Heating and cooling is provided by way of a single reverse cycle air conditioner unit situated in the ceiling cavity. An inline duct fan forces conditioned air within the walls of each floor, resulting in a radiant heating and cooling effect. Thus, rather than maintaining a comfortable room temperature by excessively heating or cooling the air, heating and cooling is delivered directly to the people within via the walls of the building itself. The building draws deeply from the long established local vocabulary of raised floors, windbreaks and sunrooms, while finding nuance in and reinterpreting these staid conventions. By simultaneously conforming to and breaking the mold, we have striven to realize an architecture that will shape both the local landscape and way of life.