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  • John Barr

Do|Co|Mo|Mo|Japan|07 : Ura House : Takamasa Yoshizaka

Do|Co|Mo|Mo is an international organisation dedicated to the Documentation and Conservation of buildings, sites and neighbourhoods of the Modern Movement. The Japanese branch has selected 100 works as representative of the development of the Modern Movement in Japan.

In a series of short posts I will feature some of the selected works that I have had the chance to visit and photograph. This post features the Ura House, designed by Takamasa Yoshizaka and built in 1956...


Takamasa Yoshizaka had an unusually international upbringing for a young Japanese of his generation (1917-1980). His father was a Japanese diplomat working at the League of Nations in Geneva and Yoshizaka had toured Europe and lived for a while in Geneva as a child. Whether or not through his father’s connections, after graduating from Waseda University in Tokyo, Yoshizaka was offered a French government grant to study architecture in France and took the opportunity to work in Corbusier’s office for two years from 1950 to 1952. Whilst living in Paris he met Taro Ura, a Japanese mathematics graduate who, like Yoshizaka, had been offered a scholarship to study in France. The two became friends and, a few years later, Ura asked Yoshizaka to design a house for him in Nishinomiya, an area close to Kobe.


Shortly after Yoshizaka returned to Japan he was appointed to design the Japanese Pavilion for the Venice Biennale, which was completed in 1956, the same year as the Ura House. Both the Japanese Pavilion and the Ura House are raised off the ground on pilotis. Taro Igarashi, a Japanese academic and writer on architecture, has argued that the pilotis at the Japanese Pavilion are not, as one might suspect, a result of the direct influence of Corbusier and Yoshizaka’s time working in his office, but rather a result of Yoshizaka’s interest in an architecture that responds to the natural environment, and in the case of the Japanese Pavilion a direct response to the sloping site. It is more difficult to make a similar argument for the Ura House, which sits on a flat site facing a major road. A more likely explanation might be that the design of the Ura House is a direct response to the urban environment and is raised off the ground for reasons of privacy and practicality (the space under the house can be used for parking).

Both the Japanese Pavilion and the Ura House are square in plan and each is supported on four massive pilotis, one on each façade. The use of massive pilotis is not, in itself, an innovation (Yoshizaka had worked on two Unité d’Habitation projects whilst in Corbusier’s office) but the use of only one column per side and their placement away from the corners is new. The reasons for the column placement are unclear, but it does set up interesting tensions and possibilities within each design.

In the Japanese Pavilion the columns are placed at a point that divides each edge of the square into approximately one third and two thirds and might well be based on the Buddhist manji (the swastika symbol). This sets up a centrifugal pinwheel pattern in plan that is reminiscent of Corbusier’s project for a Museum of Unlimited Growth.* Although there is no suggestion that the Pavilion was ever meant to be extended, the location of the columns does suggest a layout where both exhibition and circulation spiral around a central void that connects the raised exhibition space with the landscape that flows under the building.

Japanese Pavilion, Venice Biennale : Takamasa Yoshizaka : 1956

Plan at ground level : Four massive trapezoidal columns support the building above whilst allowing the surrounding landscape to flow through. (drawing by Takamasa Yoshizaka)

Japanese Pavilion, Venice Biennale : Takamasa Yoshizaka : 1956

Plan at upper level : Placement of columns creates a pinwheel plan that spirals around a square hole in the middle of the floor that provides connection between the raised gallery and the landscape below. (drawing by Takamasa Yoshizaka)

* Although utilising a more traditional grid of slender pilotis, Junzo Sakakura, who had worked in Corbusier's office from 1931-39, uses a similar strategy of exhibition spaces spiralling around a central void in his 1951 design for the Museum of Modern Art at Kamakura, which is featured in my earlier post: MOMA Kamakura : The Last Japanese Building.

In the Ura House a large, L-shaped column is placed in the middle of each façade and rotated through 45 degrees. The thinking behind this is unclear, and whilst it removes the infinitely expanding pinwheel/spiral potential of the Japanese Pavilion and creates a more contained and static composition, it does set up a diagonal axis which is used to good effect in organising access to the house, with vehicles and pedestrians entering from opposite corners of the street elevation.

Ura House : Takamasa Yoshizaka : 1956

One large L-shaped column is placed in the centre of each facade and rotated through 45 degrees.

Vehicles enter on diagonal to right of column; pedestrians enter to left of column.

Ura House : Takamasa Yoshizaka : 1956

Detail of facade and vehicle entry on diagonal under building.

Ura House : Takamasa Yoshizaka : 1956

View from vehicle entrance. Structure creates diagonal axis. In the background a stairway can be seen leading from the pedestrian entrance up to the living quarters.


Yoshizaka was not prolific as a building designer and Ura House is one of the few examples of built work. Although his work is clearly influenced by Corbusier, with Ura House and the Japanese Pavilion Yoshizaka does appear to have moved beyond simple repetition of Corbusian principles and to have developed ideas of free-flowing space supported by a few massive structural elements. These same ideas were taken up and further developed by the Metabolists, and Ura House clearly anticipates the better known Sky House, designed by Kiyonori Kikutake and completed two years later.

Sky House : Kiyonori Kikutake : 1958

View from below, taken shortly after completion. (unknown photographer)

Sky House : Kiyonori Kikutake : 1958

Street view, taken 2014.

Ura House : Takamasa Yoshizaka : 1956

Street view, taken 2019.

All images by John Barr unless otherwise noted

© John Barr 2019

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