Matsudo Mansion by BAKOKO
by Harry / July 10, 2009

Tokyo-based architects BAKOKO recently designed and remodeled ("reformed" in Japan) their new apartment. A few Flickr sets provide a window into what modern living and renovation is like in Japan...


'Man-shi-yon' is a euphemism the Japanese long-ago appropriated to describe the generic concrete apartment blocks forming much of Japan's sprawling metropolises. The tiny units inside are often cramped and outdated by modern standards. 'Reform' (or refurbishment) of any type of building used to be rare in Japan. The earth-quake prone country has always had a disposable disposition to its housing, preferring to tear-down and rebuild anew rather than re-use existing dwellings. Now, the boom and bust throw-away culture seems to be giving way to more sustainable resourcefulness and a preference for clean, modern living spaces.

matsudo_mansion_bakoko_tokyo_before.jpg The kitchen before...
New to Tokyo, we decided to transform a typical 'mansion' apartment into a contemporary Japanese home. We arrived from London in late 2008 in need of a place to live and establish our emerging practice, BAKOKO. We settled on an small apartment in an eastern suburb, only 30 minutes by train from Central Tokyo. With a distant view of majestic Mt. Fuji to the West and a gaudy neon-lit 'love hotel' to the East it truly embodies the modern paradoxes of Japan. Most people don't think that buying a home around Tokyo would be affordable, but unlike London or New York we were surprised when we didn't find ourselves priced out of the market here.

matsudo_mansion_bakoko_tokyo_after.jpg ... and the kitchen after.
In order to control costs and gain hands-on experience, we decided to do much of the work ourselves and hired trade contractors as needed. Working along side Japanese carpenters was a great for learning their building techniques first-hand. While there were some frustrating moments when things got lost in translation, drawing details on the wall at full-scale not to mention Japanese contractors' polite cooperativeness overcame those communication difficulties. What a difference from builders we were used to working with in the UK.
Before demolition, the apartment was typical of Tokyo's rapid urbanisation of the 1960's and 70's. The small 37m² (400ft²) unit was divided into two Japanese-style rooms with tatami (reed mat) flooring separated by paper (fusuma) sliding screens and a western kitchen. It was quaint and cozy, but that type of interior was simply made for a different generation. We gutted the unit and transformed it into one room, but with space in short-supply we found that retaining some traditional Japanese features made sense. For instance, new tatami mat area serves as flexible space for entertaining, contemplation, and occasional dining during the day. As is typical in Japan, a futon and blankets are unfolded onto the floor mats from the adjacent closet at bedtime.

matsudo_mansion_bakoko_tokyo_before_2.jpg The closet before...
Sliding doors run along nearly the entire length of the opposite wall, concealing a walk-in closet, full-height mirror, book shelves and a hot (pink) desk. We do a lot of work from home. The sliding wall allows us to quickly shut away our personal clutter when a client comes over. However, its equally vital to be able to shut your work away and forget about it at the end of a hard day.

matsudo_mansion_bakoko_tokyo_after_2.jpg ... and the closet after.
A green line of foliage hangs above the dining kitchen counter, indirectly lit by a thin recessed strip of light opposite. Since standard fluorescent light strips are relatively inexpensive, we seized the opportunity to be creative with built-in architectural lighting features that create subtle effects and atmosphere throughout the interior.

matsudo_mansion_bakoko_tokyo_before_3.jpg The wet room before...
The bathroom was divided into a new wet room with Hinoki timber floor (or sunoko) accessed from a small changing room with compact sink and mirrored vanity unit. Typical of modern Japanese bathrooms, the small, but very deep bathtub has no faucet. Instead, it is filled from digital consoles in the kitchen and bathroom. Bathing is a daily ritual throughout Japan. Since the Japanese assiduously cleanse themselves with a vigorous sit-down shower before entering the bath, it is forgone assumption that the bath water is kept clean. Rather than draining the bath water after each person gets out, a family may share and recycle the same bath water keeping it warm under the insulated bath cover for several days. The computerised system allows users to set the bath water temperature and remotely reheat it either on-demand or by setting a timer. A chirpy female voice chimes in when the bath is ready. The system also controls the hot water for the rest of the household.

matsudo_mansion_bakoko_tokyo_after_3.jpg ... and the wet room after.
The old squat toilet was replaced by another marvel of Japanese sanitary innovation. Ensconced in mat black walls and illuminated within a halo cast from the concealed light above is the Washlet. From a control panel on the side of the western style toilet the user can operate an built-in bidet function. Although this less-expensive model lacks advanced features such as an auto flush, self-opening and closing toilet seat, music player, or variable jets, the faucet on top of the tank is more practical, allowing users to conserve water by washing their hands in the re-filling water destined for the next flush.

+ "after" Flickr set
+ "before" Flickr set

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