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Japanese architects appreciate clean, natural and flexible plywood

Contemporary Japanese architects are embracing plywood for whole-house fit-outs, demonstrating the flexibility, function, form and cost-effectiveness of a material that appeals to the national sensibility for clean, natural materials.

Tomohiro Hata, of Tomohiro Hata Architect Associates, used construction-grade plywood extensively throughout the rebuild of a cliffside home called “the Re-slope”, perched between mountains and sea in Suwayama, Kobe. Construction of the house was completed in July last year.

Plywood is a sustainable material inexpensive, and allows the occupants to enjoy the texture of wood, he says. It is used for the series of boxy stairs connecting the home’s ascending levels, and for much of the internal finishes, including walls, floors and ceiling. Its subtle minimalism meets the Japanese philosophy of wabisabi (or perfect imperfection), the architect says, and it’s also flexible. Should the owners fancy a change in years to come, they can simply add a new finish on top.

Tomoko and Yoshiaki Nagasaka, founders of Hitotomori studio, also see “true beauty” in the construction-grade plywood and hand-built joinery left exposed in another recent project – the compact Fence House. Inside the durable galvanised exterior, plywood lining appears everywhere, including the walls, floor, ceiling, kitchen cabinets and built-in furniture, using the same carpenter throughout.

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“It’s sanded, so the surface is very smooth and gentle – familiar with life,” Yoshiaki says. The absence of borders in the house, completed this March in Osaka prefecture, provides continuum of the visual aesthetic. It’s also affordable, he adds.

The home has an area of about 850 sq ft, with an open-plan ground floor containing all of the living spaces and a more private mezzanine level above. Pitched ceilings and light-attracting windows enhance the feeling of space.

A stainless-steel worktop in the kitchen, leather upholstery for the banquette seating and bathroom tiles are among the few diversions from the natural wood. With so few visual distractions, the architects say, the handmade timber-framed construction and highly detail-oriented carpentry come shining through.