A Philosophy of Symbiosis

Cover. Shippocho House [House in Shippocho], Nagoya, Japan [2011]. Architecture: Toshihito Yokouchi Architect & Associate. Photographer: Isao Aihara.

'Western societies have two dimensional cultures [interior and exterior], while Japanese society has a three- or multi-dimensional culture [interior, intermediate, and exterior].'

- Kisho Kurokawa

One of the most pronounced and distinguishing qualities of traditional Japanese temple and residential architecture, the engawa or verandah is an intermediate space between the main living areas and the garden: a miniature landscape of lush evergreen trees and bushes, rocks, moss, water features, and gravel, meant to be seen while seated. Built not to shut out the natural world, but to be another element of the landscape, the engawa offered shelter from nature’s inconveniences, but allowed the inhabitants to remain closely in touch with the beauty of the garden, the change of seasons, the change of light, and the change of the weather. To the Japanese it is a foundation that has proven to be the proper one over eons of human existence – the most suitable and the most satisfying physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually.

Modelled on the refined shoin-zukuri ['Zen Buddhist'] temple and residential style during the Kamakura period; but evolved and developed with special reference to the English residential dwelling of today; the engawa verandah is a single-storey building typically located in the semiprivate front yard with a view of the street, and in-between the periphery or edge of the front facade and the u-shaped configuration of low 'walls', that define the buffer or boundary between the private home, the neighbouring houses, and the public street. The architecture comprises of three 'prospect' and 'refuge' typologies that are the origins of true architectural pleasure: a floor plane, linear elements that define planes, and a roof plane. 

The floor plane, an elevated concrete plinth articulated by slatted floor planks [across its width], serves as a sitting and viewing platform or 'deck', belonging to both home and garden but not exclusively to either. Frank Lloyd Wright openly admired this particular characteristic of the Japanese dwelling, having delighted in the fact that it was impossible to tell precisely ‘where the garden leaves off and the garden begins.’ A traditional post-and-lintel skeleton frame, raised upon a series of tapered granite base posts, forms a three-dimensional framework or colonnade that serves to support the roof plane whilst still permitting visual and spatial continuity between the space and its surroundings. Similar to the manner in which a tree offers a shaded resting place beneath its sheltering canopy; a single, large slanting roof plane with overhanging eaves protects the 'interior' from wind, rain, and, in the summer, the strong rays of the Sun.

The beauty and aesthetic pleasure of the engawa verandah is derived from its pure geometry and clean lines; the decorative use of an exposed structural framework [posts, lintel, and 'hidden roof', visible only from under the eaves]; the art of kigumi - the traditional Japanese interlocking of wooden pieces without the use of nails or screws; and wood [European Oak, Douglas fir, or British Larch], which is neither painted nor stained, but left to display its integral, natural beauty of its colour and grain. Of course, the presence of an engawa as an extension of the interior space would be meaningless if there is nothing for the eyes and the mind to interact with. The insertion of a 'visual garden' beside the viewing platform, establishes a symbiotic relationship based upon juxtaposition, counterpoint and contrast. The strong relationship of attracting opposites - the natural and the man-made - each complementing and enhancing the other, generates a garden, in its most real meaning.

One last thing to note about wood-based construction and the endurance of the engawa as an essential part of Japanese livelihood, is the harmonisation of the dimensions of timber and building components. Over generations, this made it possible to produce, in major urban centres such as Osaka, high-quality prefabricated post-and-lintel frames, which were tranported to remote provinces, where they were erected. Such construction was rapid and cheap, and with the standardisation of sizes and units, the building was often carried out by a 'master carpenter' and unskilled labour. Thanks to advances in computer numerical control [CNC] technologies and building information modeling [BIM] software tools, we are now able to manufacture built to fit [fully customised] engawa assemblies off-site and quickly place them into position on-site - thus significantly reducing the time of construction onsite, and the inevitable disruptions to inhabitants. Call it modern accelerated wood architecture construction.
Conceptual Diagramme​​​​​​​
Fig.1. Dead Space
Fig.2. Intervention
Fig.3. Prospect
Fig.4. Refuge
Note 2. Dead Space
Semiprivate and private residential outdoor space in which one sees concrete covering land which once supported hundreds of varieties of plant and animal life; a hedge or a tangle of bushes; one or two private cars, and the preternaturally ugly ‘wheelie bin’; but few people, if any, because conditions for outdoor stays [the key word is staying] is more or less impossible. Under these conditions most residents prefer to remain inside, what are most certainly sensory-reduction environments, in front of the television – the greatest mind control tool ever created.

Note 3. Intervention
Floor, wall, and ceiling planes serve to define and isolate a portion of space. Of these, the wall plane, being perpendicular to our normal line of sight, has the greatest effect as a spatial boundary. It limits our visual field and serves as a barrier to our movement. Intervention is a procedure often distinguished by a small, non-structural cut or subtraction of a parapet – the wall plane below a window facing a semiprivate front yard or a private backyard. Without a parapet to block, a window gives way to a porte-fenestre [Fig.5], merging inside and outside, home and garden - both visually and spatially. 

Note 4. Prospect
People prefer environments and spaces that provide unobstructed views or vistas from multiple vantage points, so that internal and external areas can be easily surveyed and contemplated for both opportunity and hazard. In natural environments, prospects include open terrain, copses of shade trees, an understory of herbaceous flowering plants, bodies of water, and evidence of human activity or habitation. In human-created environments, prospects include open or semi-open floor plans, deep, elevated terraces and balconies, the generous use of windows and glass doors, louvred or slatted filters and screens, and thickly planted shrubberies less than or equal to 1m [42in].

Note 5. Refuge
People prefer the edges, rather than middles of spaces; spaces with ceilings or sheltering canopies overhead to provide protection from weather; spaces with few access points [i.e., protected at the back or side]; and spaces that provide a sense of safety and shelter, retreat and withdrawal – for work, protection, rest, contemplation or healing. In natural environments, refuges include enclosed spaces such as caves, dense vegetation, and climbable trees with dense canopies nearby. In man-made environments, refuges include roofed, open-air architecture, lowered colours, temperatures or brightness, and translucent [or semi-opaque] shades, blinds, screens or partitions.

Fig.5. Porte-fenstre

Note 6. Porte-fentre
A wood, weather-stripped frame and a single side hung – outward or inward - sash around a two-pane insulated glazing unit, serving as a window and a door. The conventional use of two window sashes – one active, and one non-active leaf - is deliberately avoided in order to maximise the amount of natural light passing through the opening as well as minimise the visual impact of window bars and sashes, as the sitter gazes towards the brightness of the garden. Perhaps, more importantly, it becomes part of a living concept that allows for an easy progression from indoors to outdoors, with decks, terraces and gardens seen as natural extensions of personal living and dining space.
Isometric Impressions​​​​​​​

Fig.1. Mid-terrace @ semiprivate front yard with engawa verandah and tsubo-niwa 1.50

Fig.2. Front facade beside engawa verandah and tsubo-niwa 1.24

Note 7. Engawa verandah
Modelled on the refined shoin-zukuri timber-floored open corridor or verandah constructed around the outside of a traditional Japanese Zen Buddhist temple or house, and crafted primarily from solid wood, the engawa or en [‘edge’ and ‘connection’] space comprises of an elevated viewing deck of slatted floor planks [across its width]; a post-and-lintel skeleton frame raised upon a series of tapered granite bases [along its length]; and a ‘hidden roof’ consisting of an externally visible and exposed large slanting roof plane with overhanging eaves; and an intricate and elaborate framework visible only from under the eaves [along its length].

Note 8. Tsubo-niwa
A key feature of some traditional Japanese machiya [townhouses], shops and temples - adapted to the context of the traditional semiprivate front yard with a view of the street - the tsubo-niwa is a small to very small courtyard garden characterised by two simple yet beautiful elements: a ‘living screen’ that is designed to be enjoyed while seated on the outdoor deck or in the main living area of the house, while adding some privacy and intimacy for the sitter; and a path of white gravel or sand, to establish what is generally referred to as a threshold - an acoustic zone of passage or pause between the very public residential street and the semiprivate engawa or verandah.
Note 9. Living screen
An expanse of closely spaced shrubs, grasses, sometimes ornamental trees, and curved water bowls, planted and trained along the periphery or edge of a deck or terrace. Its special character is primarily the result of how it pursues its mission, which takes it far beyond fulfilling the typical role of clipped hedges as garden elements for separating or dividing space, privacy or seclusion, screening an unsightly view, or perhaps protection from wind, rain, and sun. Although meeting all these on a high level of artistry, it is to the eyes and mind while resting, that they make their chiefest appeal.
Orthographic Impressions​​​​​​​

Fig.1. Whole-house roof plan 1.40

Fig.2. Whole-house ground floor plan incl. enfilade 1.40

Note 10. Enfilade
A common feature in grand European architecture from the Baroque period onward, an enfilade is a series of rooms in which the doors entering each space are aligned with the doors of the connecting space, to facilitate movement through the building, and to provide a vista [a pleasing view] through successive rooms. In a contemporary context, the enfilade is a series of door-windows that allow the heart of the dwelling - the living and dining spaces – to be lightly divided without destroying the concept of a generous, fluid and almost uninterrupted corridor or network of indoor-outdoor spaces and places along the north-south axis.

Fig.3. Ground floor plan @ rear and front reception thresholds 1.20

Note 11. Threshold
A threshold is a transitional zone of movement or pause between two adjacent, rarely identical spaces e.g. inside and outside or spatial statuses e.g. a very public residential street to a very private living space. Contrary to the manner of connecting interior and exterior space today, which is too often and too quickly resolved by nothing more than a solid door; gravel [for its acoustic qualities], in-between spaces, and porte-fenestres [‘door-windows’] are employed to construct a more ambiguous, aesthetically-pleasing transitional zone, that fuses the house with the atmospheric qualities of the garden, nature and street, rather than muting it.

Fig.4. Longitudinal elevation @ street/semiprivate front yard 1.32

Fig.5. Longitudinal section aa @ semiprivate front yard 1.32​​​​​​​

Fig.6. Longitudinal section aa @ water bowl/rain chain junction 1.4

Fig.7. Longitudinal section cc and ground floor plan @ front porte-fenetre 1.20

Fig.8. Cross-section gg @ semiprivate front yard 1.12

Fig.9. Cross-section gg @ water bowl/rain chain junction 1.6

Fig.10. Cross-section hh @ front porte-fenetre 1.12

Mood & Ambience
From left to right: Dollis Hill Avenue by Thomas-McBrien ArchitectsBrunswick by Nathan Burkett Landscape ArchitectureWoodland Residence by Stimson Studio | St Petersburg by Mokh | Bluebells in Ferns by Karl GercensSalvia Amethyst [Woodland Sage] | Athyrium filix-femina [Lady Fern] ​​​​​​​| Grass by [?] | Bamboo by Ian AlbinsonShisen-do Jozanji Temple by Mugi | Granite Tapered Saddle Stone | Kazutsu no le [House with a Wind Chiney] by Toshihito Yokouchi Architect & AssociateAmanu Lounge Chair by Yabu Pushelberg & TribuPure Sofa & C-Table Teak by Andrei Munteanu & Tribu | Kos Dining Table & Kos Bench by Studio Segers & Tribu | Hat House by Tina Bergman ArchitectSouth London Garden by Studio CullisRobin by Peter StaniforthToluca by Terremoto LandscapeNewry by Straw BrothersCamberwell by Andy Stedman Design.
Isometric Cross-Sections

Fig.1. Cross-section gg @ semiprivate front yard 1.16

Fig.2. Section gg @ front water bowl/rain chain junction 1.4

Fig.3. Section hh @ existing front picture window 1.16

Fig.4. Section hh @ front portes-fenetres 1.16

Fig.5. Section hh @ front porte-fenetre/lintel junction 1.2

Fig.6. Section hh @ front portes-fenetre/threshold junction 1.2

Fig.7. Section ii @ front porte-fenetre 1.8

Fig.8. Section ii @ front porte-fenetre: box frame/thermal insulation junction 1.2

Isometric Assembly Drawings​​​​​​​

Fig.1. Substructure and superstructure 1.16

Fig.2. Substructure and superstructure exploded 1.24

Fig.3. Timber post-and-lintel skeleton frame @ edge 1.2

Fig.4. Timber post-and-lintel skeleton frame @ midpoint 1.2

Fig.5. Timber post and solid plank floor @ midpoint 1.2

Construction or Working Drawings

Fig.1. Whole-house roof plan 1.40

Fig.2. Whole-house ground floor plan 1.40

Fig.3. Ground floor plan @ front and back thresholds 1.20

Fig.4. Ground floor plan @ deck/living screen junction 1.4

Fig.5. Ground floor plan @ post/water bowl junction 1.2

Fig.6. Longitudinal elevation @ street/semiprivate front yard 1.32

Fig.7. Longitudinal section aa @ semiprivate front yard 1.32

Fig.8. Longitudinal section aa @ rain chain/water bowl junction 1.4

Fig.9. Longitudinal section bb @ semiprivate front yard 1.32

Fig.10. Longitudinal section bb @ timber post-and-lintel skeleton frame [midpoint] 1.2

Fig.11. Longitudinal section bb @ timber post-and-floor structural framework [midpoint] 1.2

Fig.12. Longitudinal section cc @ front facade 1.32

Fig.13. Longitudinal section cc and ground floor plan @ front threshold 1.16

Fig.14. Longitudinal section cc @ front facade/'hidden roof' junction 1.4

Fig.15. Cross-section gg @ semiprivate front yard/street 1.20

Fig.16. Cross-section gg @ semiprivate front yard 1.12

Fig.17. Cross-section gg @ front wall/'hidden roof' junction 1.2

Fig.18. Cross-section gg @ eave/rain chain junction 1.1

Fig.19. Cross-section gg @ rain chain/water bowl junction 1.6

Fig.20. Cross-section hh @ front porte-fenêtre 1.12

Fig.21. Cross-section hh @ front lintel and threshold junctions 1.2


Engawa Deck

Solid plank floor 
44x94x994/1194mm Air-Dried European/English [Quercus Robur] Structural Oak w/ 5x90mm Stainless Steel Framing Nails 34° Round Head [Smooth Shank].

47x100x994/3020mm Eased-Edge C24 Kiln Dried Treated Softwood Carcassing Timber @ 400mm o.c., 10x70x70mm Heavy Duty Plastic Solid Square Packer @ 400 o.c.

Slab foundation
150mm Cast Concrete Slab on Grade with 1.2° Slope [Drainage] and 195x195x100mm Plinth, 50mm Coarse Concrete Sand/Sharp Sand Setting, 100mm Type 3 Open Graded Crushed Aggregate, Stable [Uniformly Dense] Soil Base

Post-and-Lintel Skeleton Frame

Post base
125/150mm Granite [Tapered Square] Staddle Stone with 16x230mm Steel Rod [for fixing which protrudes 30mm]

125x125x1950mm Air-Dried European/English [Quercus Robur] Structural Oak

125x150x3525mm Air-Dried European/English [Quercus Robur] Structural Oak with Rabbeted Oblique Scarf Splice  & 15x15x150mm Draw Pin

External lighting
Mono II Down-Up LED 930 [Dark Grey] Wall Surface Mounted Luminaire

Hisashi Roof with Overhanging Eaves

Ledger beam
75x150x3340mm Air-Dried European/English [Quercus Robur] Structural Oak w/ 12x149mm [WA12199] Wedge Anchor Bolt

Rake w/ overhanging eave
50x200x2000mm Air-Dried European/English [Quercus Robur] Structural Oak @ 34.5°

Rafter w/ overhanging eave
50x100x1800mm Air-Dried European/English [Quercus Robur] Structural Oak @ 34.5°

25x115mm Air Dried Oak Half-Lap Cladding

Interior support
18x38x4800mm Treated Softwood Batten @ 400 o.c.

20x142/70x1875mm Carefully Machined Air-Dried Oak Board and Batten

0.6x3000mm Polyester Powder Coated [RAL 7016] 25 Gauge Galvanised Steel Counterflashing, 15x15mm Half Clip Fixing,  0.6x3000mm Polyester Powder Coated [RAL 7016] 25 Gauge Galvanised Steel Baseflashing, 0.6x50mm Polyester Powder Coated [RAL 7016] 25 Gauge Galvanised Steel Cleat

5x25x315mm Polyester Powder Coated [RAL 7016] 8 Gauge Galvanised Steel Flat Bar Gutter Bracket, 6x50x100mm Polyester Powder Coated [RAL 7016] 8 Gauge Galvanised Steel Angle 'Valley' Gutter, M12x90mm Hex Head Bolt BZP [10.9], 10mm Grade 80 Short Link Chain.
In-between Space 2024
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