Dezeen Magazine

Slit Court by EASTERN Design Office

Japanese architects EASTERN design office have completed a five-storey residential project in Sumizome, Kyoto, Japan.

Apartments are arranged around an inner courtyard with 15 metre-high concrete curves framing eleven windows.

Called Slit Court, the building is situated among narrow streets and the courtyard aims to increase the amount of natural light admitted to each apartment.

Residents enter the courtyard through a tunnel decorated with concrete shapes representing cherry trees.

Photographs are by Koichi Torimrua.

Here's some information from the architects:


Slit Court – a hidden potentiality of an inner court

The essence of this architecture lies in an inner court.

The site is at Sumizome, Fushimi, Kyoto. It is a small town with a long and distinguished history, situated south of Tofukuji temple. South-facing, the building is built on a gentle slope.

It is a collective housing of five stories. Two tenants occupy the front and back side of the first floor. There are four units on the second to fourth floor and two units on the fifth floor.

The site of a Japanese house is generally small and a narrow lot is facing to a narrow street. Even in a historic town, it happens that such a narrow street is turned to a main street to be the transportation route for cars, then it is no more a place where town people had once shared joy of living together. Therefore in our architecture, we make the inner living space a place to protect what matters in life.  We try to protect sky, land and light inside the building.

In this occasion we are asked what the way should be, that will lead us to an important place. One's beautiful life shares the destiny with a town. And the first place where people encounter the outside world is a path. We therefore try to adjust the form of the path to the history of the town, the clients’ way of living, and the way of existence of the town people living there.  The resident of the architecture, built on the basis of such notions, declares that this is the way how his beautiful life should be.

We make architecture with an inner court. This inner court redefines how the form of “people, town and path” should be in Kyoto. The inner garden reminds us of entering temple precincts. Is the inside of temple precincts a garden? An entrance?  Is it real or unreal? There is no way of knowing. Is unreal a denial of being real, or is unreal a part of being real? We built a vertically-stacked collective housing on a narrow lot and made a place beyond such senses by placing a gaping void inside the building. This is a new characteristic.

This inner court is not just a so called void, but it has a symbolic meaning which will be clarified within following:

  1. Device of the inner court
  2. Form of the inner court
  3. A path that passes under cherry trees
  4. Meaning of the inner court

Device of the inner court

Summing up the devices of an inner court. There is a revised balance in the inner court, because the hidden place is brighter than the main street.

A hidden place dark - bright

Town vs architecture, main street vs narrow path, inside vs outside of rooms, mixing up the elements of light and darkness found in them.

Inner place dark - bright

What is “inside” of the entire construction is “outside” for the residents of each dwelling unit. In this collective housing there is an “inside” which is quite different from a closed and isolated individual housing unit.

Fracturing and mixing inside and outside - bright
This brightness bears sky, ground and light in it.

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Form of the inner court

In the middle of the building we made a cylindrical inner court with the height of 15 meters in a space of 7x5.5 m.  Building a void at the recessed place from the main street, sky, ground and light are framed.

Eleven curved slits (narrow windows) are winding on the surface of four concrete walls. The movement of rising upward spiral curves becomes a dream of a curve, revealing each resident another dream that his room, blue sky and stars are connected. The view blocked by the slim windows will softly protect the subtle quietness inside it.

Two backrooms enclose inner court as two L-shaped rooms. People can spend their days feeling close to the existence of the inner court.

The high wall is cut at a slant according to the sun’s angle of winter solstice (the day when the sun is the lowest). Ample lights can be taken into the rooms even in midwinter. Yet there is no sense of blocking the sky.

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A path that passes under cherry trees

To enter this inner court, we pass under the cherry tree carved on the exterior wall. This cherry tree is a pale charcoal cherry named Sumizomezakura. Sumizome is also the name of this town. The legend inherited here over 1200 years says that this type of cherry tree bears pale charcoal colored cherry blossoms when singing a song mourning a dead people.

The path passing under the cherry tree leads to another world. When passing through the tunnel, you will suddenly find an inner court. The exterior wall is a gate for the cherry tree.

The path passing under the cherry tree leads to a back street which again leads to another road.  The urban structure of Kyoto is inherited here in this way of land using. Catching a glimpse of the inner court, residents will go into their own unit.

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Meaning of the inner court

Frontage adjacent to the street is narrow in Kyoto, it continues deep to the back.  Therefore it is difficult to have many rooms which can take ample light.  However much light enter the inner court, which enables a construction on a narrow lot to have sunny rooms.

Buying many small lots and make a large building sites to design buildings with large floor space, or expanding a new district, building sidewalks and squares will not always lead to create superior architecture.

In contrast with these methods of expansion, this architecture is created on a narrow path. A structure that suddenly appears and provides a segregated and hidden place.

Making a place which is slightly closed to the public and hidden from others a serene space.  In this place, the spirit of people is playful. We created such a place in the center of the building.

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SITE: Kyoto, Japan
SITE AREA: 440.12m2
RC: 5 Story
2009 Completeion