Sherry Nothingam’s article in Decoist, an online architecture and interior design magazine, describes how a family incorporated “nature” into their small, urban house in Osaka, which is infamously known as the Melt House. SAI Architectural Design Office built an indoor dry garden inside a house on a small and narrow lot (Nothingam, 2019). This incredible architectural feat has been featured in multiple online magazines and newspapers. The garden separates the kitchen and dining from the living space because it is situated in the middle of the house, and it is covered with a double-height roof (Nothingam, 2019). Nothingam specifically mentions how the windows were constructed to allow the perfect amount of natural light into the house and garden (2019). The garden is beautiful, yet it does not place unreasonable financial demands on the homeowners or require constant maintenance (Nothingam, 2019).
The Melt House itself is extremely modern and minimalistic, and the garden also embodies these characteristics. There are no flowers, weeds, or insects in the garden. At first glance, this article seems to portray Japanese families, houses, and nature as “picture-perfect”. After further consideration, the article may insinuate that Japanese “nature” is sterile, cold, and ironically not natural. This theme can be seen in many other Japanese expressions of “nature”, such as the art of Ikebana and Bonsai trees. This article describes the garden as something that should be revered but not utilized, contributing to the garden’s sterile impression. The homeowners are able to experience a very clean and well maintained version of nature, which might suggest that Japanese people are not entirely comfortable outside or even may fear untamed nature.
The garden inside the Melt House can be considered “green”, yet this small piece of nature is incredibly well maintained and contained. Compared to the Bijinbayashi forest, the three trees that make up the Melt House’s garden are hardly spectacular. Nonetheless, Nothingam praised SAI Architectural Design Office for welcoming “greenery indoors” (2019). She explains how the garden accentuates the “green brilliance” of the Melt House (Nothingam, 2019). Most architects use floor-to-ceiling glass doors and walls to showcase the natural environment surrounding a house, but by bringing a garden inside the house, the owners of the Melt House appear to be closer to nature. However, they may be just as removed from greenery as other homeowners because the version of “nature” that they are viewing is not the same as the real world.
Kalland and Asquith (1997) propose that the Japanese see nature on a continuum, nature as tame and nature as wild. We can clearly see in this article that nature has been domesticated. It has been trimmed and made to grow in a certain way. Thus, nature is valued in an idealised way whereby offensive elements have been removed and the inoffensive elements being well maintained.
Unlike the lower class, that works in nature itself or use nature as a means to survive, like plantation farmers, the nature depicted in this article is different (Kirby, 2011). Nature incorporated here acts as a passage between rooms and a space for daily congregation. In the images, there is a sofa in front of the garden, suggesting that it is a place of respite and for viewing nature. The use of nature in this place is therefore for recreation and not necessity.
The design boasts minimalism and the aesthetic of nature in the house. This caters to the sensibilities of the rich, who see that nature is beautiful in its well maintained state and calmness. They neither fear nature nor experience nature’s strength, and find beauty and revere in it, unlike fishermen who hold festivals and pray to the gods for a safe seafaring. Furthermore, the design of the house is based on the client’s budget and consultations with the architect, this suggests that money is not a huge problem for the client. Clearly, the intended audience is the upper class instead of the lower class or rural population.
Word Count: 658
Kalland, A., & Asquith, P. J. (1997). Japanese perceptions of nature: ideals and illusions. Japanese images of nature: Cultural perspectives. Richmond, UK: Curzon.
Kirby, P. W. (2011). Troubled natures: waste, environment, Japan. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaiʻi Press.
Nothingam, S. (2019). Japanese Home on Narrow Lot Embraces Greenery with an Indoor Dry Garden. Retrieved from: https://www.decoist.com/eco-friendly-japanese-home-indoor-garden/