Neat stacks of freshly pressed paper. Glittering sugar cubes. A sculptor’s pristine plaster casts.
Whatever metaphor you might bestow upon the brilliant white forms of Kichi Architectural Design, there is no denying their meticulous, minimalist appeal. This young firm has adopted an aesthetic very much in keeping with the modernist ideals of many of contemporary architects across Japan, but they appear to have found a way to carve out more beauty from the humble box than perhaps any other in the residential sector.
“Our aim is to create unique spaces that resonate with the spirits of the people who will live there,” reflects Naoyuki Kikkawa, founding chairman of the Ibaraki-based practice, which is celebrating its 10-year anniversary this year. Kikkawa’s priorities reflect his close working relationship with each client that appoints the firm.
As Kichi typically works with individuals and families on private residences, it is essential that the personality, sensibility, and “spirit” of each person who will inhabit the space is captured to create the ideal space. “Over a long time, I talk with the client,” says Kikkawa. “I spend a lot of time with them, and it is evident in the form of the finished works.”
Circle House, Tsukuba
One of the best examples of this relationship came in the form of Circle House, a recently completed project that Kikkawa sees as one of the studio’s finest moments to date. “Circle House is a work that represents the minimalism I have been pursuing,” asserts the architect. The house in Tsukuba stands as a culmination of reductive refinement by Kichi, producing a dramatically minimal form that strips modernism back to its essential elements.
The house employs cleverly layered façades that result in pure white, opaque elevations that still allow large amounts of natural light to enter the internal spaces. It is an architectural trick that Kikkawa has made his signature technique, and the look has proved exceptionally popular over the past five years.
Ripple House, Tsukubamirai
Ripple House, completed in 2013 in Ibaraki Prefecture, repeats the trick on a vertical plane. Viewed from the front, three slabs of pure white render stand like blank sheets of paper concealing the stories of each resident between the pages. This highly sculptural residence is also the epitome of Kikkawa’s preferred formal style, something he calls “static” architecture.
“At first glance, my work has the atmosphere of foreign architecture, but, in fact, in my work there lies a spirit of Japanese static design.” Indeed, Kichi’s buildings embody architectural stasis; their rectilinear forms appear rock steady in the midst of each frenetic city they are constructed in. In a world obsessed with motion, speed and dynamism — both architecturally speaking and within the urban environment at large — these houses form welcome moments of serenity for those that inhabit them and for the public as they pass by.
Hotel Pat Inn, Ogasawara
Kikkawa’s minimalist philosophies are clear and consistent and have now been put to the test on a grander scale. Kichi’s first hotel design was realized earlier this year on the picturesque Ogasawara archipelago south of Tokyo. Situated in a subtropical climate, Hotel Pat Inn is surrounded by native flora and fauna and combines Kikkawa’s typically chic modern style with a more natural, relaxed material palette to reflect the laid-back culture of Pacific coast.
Buff façades of natural mortar interject an element of softness into the development and show Kichi Architectural Design is capable of adapting their distinctive brand of minimalism to suit specific geographical and cultural contexts. This adaptation is something Kikkawa wants to maintain moving forward, the practice branching out from residential projects to take on commissions in wider sectors.
Carved House, Hitachinaka
Over the course of 10 years, Kichi Architectural Design has compiled an impressive collection of avant-garde homes across the country’s southeast, each with their own unique sculptural quality. While firmly rooted in the urban fabric of Japan, many of the buildings evoke forms and processes found in nature, a fact reflected by their names: Canyon House, Cave House, Gemstone House, Carved House, and the Secret Garden.
These houses and their titles ultimately link back to Kikkawa’s top priority as an architect: his clients and their individual personalities. As the firm evolves and grows, one thing seems certain: Kichi’s founding chairman will continue to maintain that philosophy while continuing to explore new ways to unbox little moments of architectural beauty across Japan.