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Kyoto, Japan

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. Facing to south, 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 faces 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 longer a place where town people once shared the 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 how 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 his beautiful life should be.  ,    


We made architecture with an inner court. This inner court redefines how the form of “people, town and path” should be in Kyoto.


This 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 it.  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 to the 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


1. Device of the inner court


Summing up the devices of an inner court

a. There is a revised balance in the inner court, because the hidden place is brighter than the main street.


a hidden place ≠ dark →  bright


b. 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


c. 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.   


2. Form of the inner court


In the middle of the building we made a cylindrical inner court with the height of 15 meters on a space of 7x5.5 m.  Building a void at a place recessed 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 to 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 closely feeling the existence of the inner court,  

The high wall is cut aslant 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.


3. 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 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 using land. Catching a glimpse of the inner court, residents will go into their own unit.

4. 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 can be taken into this 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 creates on a narrow path a structure that suddenly appears and provides a segregated and hidden place.

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


Slit Court


Location: Kyoto, Japan

Completed: 2009

Client: Ryoichi Yoshikazu Miyagoshi

Site area: 440.12m2

Total floor area: 859.42m2

Photographer: Koichi Torimura

Constructor: KUWAHARA Co., Ltd

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