Nanpeidai Apartment is a renovation project on an apartment in an older apartment building in central Tokyo.

Buildings in Japan have a notoriously short lifespan. The average life-expectancy for buildings in Tokyo is 26 years. Concrete apartment buildings over 40 years old are often threatened with demolition. This scrap-and-build mentality has been criticised for its wastefulness and costliness, in both financial and environmental terms.

This project aimed to renovate and bring a fresh design sensibility to an apartment in a conventional but well-located apartment building near Shibuya in Tokyo. The 75 sq.m. apartment was in a sorry condition when we found it – a dull office space with a suspended ceiling, fluorescent lighting, and grey carpet tiles. The design approach was to strip back and open up the space as much as possible, making use of movable space-defining elements such as 3/4 height partitions, sliding glass doors and curtains to enable diverse modes of occupation, from bachelor pad to three-bedroom family dwelling. The material strategy contrasts the raw and bitten concrete ceiling and muscular beams against fine oak floors and stainless steel fixtures, revealing the strong bones of these older buildings. The floor plan borrows the traditional division of space in the Japanese dwelling between a rough concrete-floored zone near the entrance and bathroom  (the ‘doma’), and the warm “shoes-free” timber-clad living area (the ‘ima’).  A bathroom clad in basic white tiles and transparent glass walls expands the tight spaces around the entrance, while a wooden box clad in a light veneer plywood provides a versatile study and storage space.

The generous proportions, “wabi-sabi” finishes, and the loft-like spaces of the resulting apartment have given it a quite unique character for Tokyo. The project has been profiled in the Japanese media and it has enjoyed great success as an occasional short-term accommodation through AirBnB.

Through the application of design intelligence, an unpromising space in an old structure has been given a new lease of life – the ultimate test for sustainable design.

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