Architecture of the Northern outdoors | Hokkaido

"House K" in Sapporo by Yoshichika Takagi. Photo: © Roland Hagenberg

In winter a skiing paradise, in summer a world of adventure for hikers, mountain climbers, and canoeists. But not only that. Tugged into Hokkaido’s nature one can find buildings that surprise with their refined architecture. Like Suiboku designed by architect Koichiro Ishiguro. The five-story concrete building stands on a slope in Niseko, two hours by car west of Sapporo. “My task was to combine three elements,” remembers the architect. “The spaciousness of a loft in New York, where the client lived as a student. The weightiness of a traditional Chinese building where the client’s wife grew up – plus the simplicity of Japanese, modern architecture.” The loft was the easiest part as Ishiguro just spread out ten spacious rooms. Fascinated by ancient cave habitats, Ishiguro’s design often draws on their archaic functionality.

Suiboku. Photos: © Shouya Grigg

At Suiboku he lets the light enter from only one side through a giant floor-to-ceiling window. This creates intimacy and a sense of security all the while one is not cut off from the outside world. On the contrary. The generous view over a landscape with a volcano (Mt. Yotei) makes you feel elevated, informed, on top of things – just what our ancestral cave dwellers needed to survive. The single wall opening also provides the semi-darkness usually associated with traditional Chinese buildings – Ishiguro’s challenge number two. The Japanese part on the other hand was solved with the help of raw concrete and dark steel. In combination with unassuming furniture, it creates the illusion of a Japanese minimalist space.

Zaborin hot spring resort; Shouya Grigg. Photos: © Shouya Grigg

Creative director Shouya Grigg too is an expert in crafting environments that live up to the serenity one expects when visiting Japan. The Australian helped Suiboku get off the ground. His latest project is Zaborin, a hot spring resort nearby. Whereas Suiboku was built from scratch, the modernity of Zaborin is an extension of traditional structures, that were already in place at the building site.

House K inside. Photo: © Toshiyuki Yano; Yoshichika Takagi; House K outside. Photo: © Anna Nagai

Another successful Hokkaido space designer is Yoshichika Takagi, who opened his architectural practice in Sapporo in 2005. “The first four years were tough! I sat the whole day alone in my office waiting for customers.” But then design magazines introduced his House K to an international audience and Takagi’s career took off. He attributes the media attention to his playful treatment of space with references to Hokkaido’s rooftops, that must withstand heavy loads of snow. House K – a family residence, consists of a single space with smaller “buildings” inside – the rooms. They all have their own gamble roofs and together they look like a miniature Hokkaido village – albeit a very modern one. – Roland Hagenberg

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