Spinning Stories Through Architecture: Maki Onishi and Yuki Hyakuda (Part 1)



For the final interview in the Premium Japan Art Project’s young architects interview series, we met with Maki Onishi and Yuki Hyakuda, who work together as “o+h.” This first half of the interview focuses on two particular recent examples of their work: the Double Helix House and the Hut and Tower House.

Chain of spaces: The Double Helix House

The Double Helix House is located in Yanaka, Tokyo, where the old shitamachi (downtown) streetscapes still linger. The house is relatively small and stands on a so-called “flagpole plot”—the Japanese term for an interior lot accessed by a long strip of land connecting it to the main street, although the Double Helix House actually has two “flagpoles” approaching the lot from different angles. Both of these approaches blend seamlessly into the living space, forming a long corridor that winds around a white “core” building of reinforced concrete.

“This house’s exterior is distinctive, but it’s actually hardly even visible because of the nature of the lot. What’s really important is the interior, and the best way to explain this is by referring to Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. In this novel, at the moment the protagonist takes a sip of the tea in which he has dipped his madeleine, memories of a house from his childhood come back to life. But they don’t all come at once—instead, fragmentary memories of places appear one by one in a linked chain.

“The Double Helix House is similar. Starting from the approach via the lanes outside, it turns into a corridor, then a living room, then goes up the staircase and into the bedroom—a chain of spaces. Like in Proust’s novel, you could say that this is a recreation of the spaces in our memories too.”

Photos (above): Double Helix House, 2011. Photos by Kai Nakamura
(Top) The building’s exterior. The flow line from the lane to the right turns into a corridor which seems to wrap around the white core. (Bottom) A room on the third floor. The patchwork cushion on the large daybed is a design of Yoko Ando’s.

According to Onishi, the Double Helix House has several distinctive spatial features. The corridors and staircases wrapped around the core have walls of wood, while the interior walls of the core itself are plastered. As Hyakuda explains, the distinctive quality of these spaces contributes to the overall effect.

“The area has many wooden houses that didn’t burn down during World War II. We used cedar for the exterior walls to form a connection as part of that. The corridor was designed to have an attractive appearance as an extension of the lane. Its width changes with each space it connects; its inclination becomes gentler where there are stairs; it becomes a space for decorations, or a small library.”

The diversity of the interior spaces affords those who live in the house small discoveries as they go about their daily lives. Each space is an everyday experience, but the sequential experience created by their linkage conceals a certain degree of the unexpected—an element of surprise. Onishi and Hyakuda’s design was intended to offer precisely this variety of minor experiences, and the result is a richer life overall.



Next page: “Essential tools for an architect: ‘language and imagination’