Sunday, October 15, 2006

Have We Found Our Architect?

If we were to stay here for a long time, we would want to find an old house and renovate it -- the older, the better. In the last few weeks, the Daily Yomiuri's regular "Cultural Inroads" column has featured two foreign architects who live here and work on preserving traditional Japanese homes, updated for modern use.

This week's is about Karl Bengs, a German architect who lives in Tokamachi, Niigata-ken. His 180-year-old thatched-roof farmhouse now has pink walls, which I could probably do without, but looks fantastic inside. (This column is apparently not on the DY website yet.)

A few weeks ago, the column was about Geoffrey Moussas, an American and an alumnus of the MIT-Japan program who lives in a machiya in Kyoto that he reconstructed over a period of several years. Moussas is also a part-time lecturer at Kyoto University.

The number one thing I would want in remodeling an old house is the ability to keep a house dry -- I'm tired of finding kabi (mildew) on everything, including my shoes. I would want the house to be well-insulated on general principle, but I'm actually more or less okay with not every room in the house being heated to exactly the same temperature, as Americans are accustomed to. A decent kitchen (rare in Japan even in recent houses), a nice bath, and a Western-style toilet with a heated seat, and we're almost there. I want a small, well-lit Japanese-style room with lots of bookcases for an office (small enough that I'm forced to not clutter it up). The house has to have at least one tatami-mat room. And if it's on a lot big enough to have a small garden, I love Japanese-style gates and garden walls.

Anything else? Hmm, can I get it within bicycling distance of a nice shotengai (shopping district) with some local, historical color (like, say, Kawagoe, where we went to a fantastic festival today that I'll write about sometime), a nice beach, a go club, and the office, and I'm in paradise. Well, of course, except for missing my family and friends, most of whom live on a different continent...

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