Kotaro Ide is used to bafflement. Did he create a phenomenon that is not easy to put into words? “The scenery is reminiscent of a sci-fi movie in which the locals inhabit an abandoned spaceship,” says the Tokyo-born architect, describing the property, which regularly generates amazement. “Over time, trees and plants grow around the ship and it blends with the landscape.” His building, which he describes so full-bodied, has the simple name “Shell House”. In the forests of Karuizawa, a municipality in the east of Nagano’s Japanese prefecture, this extraordinary holiday home stands out clearly from the surrounding rocks and trees. To intervene as little as possible in the natural condition of the property, the house was built around the trees.
Life in the shell
The shape is not easy to define: two shell-like, oval structures made of concrete float 1.40 meters above the forest floor. The center of the property is a circular courtyard with a stately fir in the center. The curved, geometric structure of the building has an almost organic character, resembling an abandoned snail shell that may not even have come from this world. The hovering elevation of the house, in addition to the aesthetics, has very practical reasons: without having to dig the ground and get the necessary insulation, the house is protected from the damp of the forest floor.
Connection between nature and man
Such cautiousness towards nature is a tradition in Japan. Their expression finds the thoroughly spiritual relationship of the Japanese to flora and fauna in the centuries-old Japanese garden art, which is admired and gladly imitated all over the world. The garden serves as a retreat and is a meditative oasis away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. At the same time, the islanders of the Far East are known for their ingenuity and sense of the unusual. “It’s a Japanese virtue to create a fluid connection between nature and human life,” explains Kotaro Ide. It tempted him to create an object that paid tribute to nature while withstanding the laws of nature. “Coexistence” is the motto of the Shell House, which he realized with his architects ARTechnic architects.
The transitions between the exterior and the interior are fluid in the Waldhaus: the façade facing the inner courtyard is entirely made of glass. Round porthole openings in the ceiling serve as an additional source of light. Thanks to the self-supporting construction, the spacious rooms can do without additional supports. The result is an airy, light-flooded room. Both parts of the house differ in shape and height, but form a harmonious unity. In the smaller of the two concrete bowls kitchen and living and dining area are housed, the latter with a direct view into the forest. A highlight is the centrally located, free hanging fireplace, around which a seating area is placed. The larger, two-story building houses the bedrooms and a bathroom. The interior walls are partially veneered with oiled teak, the floor of the living area as well as the partially covered, terraced terraces are made of Ulin, a dark hardwood from Malaysia and Indonesia. An ingenious ventilation system regulates temperature and humidity and ensures a comfortable climate in every season: that too is a cause for wonder.
More amazing things from the snail shell in the picture gallery: