Need a Little (Little) Design Inspiration?

In Naomi Pollock's latest tome, Jutaku, she explores the smaller side of Japanese architecture. Here, she shares seven standout designs from the book's collection of more than 400 efficiently and imaginatively designed houses.

S House, Oomiya, Saitama Prefecture, Yuusuke Karasawa, 2013.

An American architect currently living in Japan, Naomi Pollock has been writing about Japanese design since 1989. In the course of doing so, she's discovered that a factor traditionally perceived as a drawback—namely, the lack of space—is actually one of the driving forces behind the nation's wealth of inventive design. "It's a classic case of a constraint spawning tremendous creativity and innovation," she says over the phone one afternoon. "One of the great strengths of this book is that it presents the vast array of possibilities in residential architecture in Japan." Here, Pollock selects seven houses illustrating the creativity and range of design in the country.

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Window House, Miura, Kanagawa Prefecture, Yasutaka Yoshimura, 2013

"This house floors me. It says so much about Japan. I believe it's a second home, and it's facing the water. Since it sits between the rest of town and the water view it could potentially block, the house has huge windows on the two broad sides. When the clients are there, they close the curtains—but when they aren't there, they keep the curtains open so that people can see through to the water."

S House, Oomiya, Saitama Prefecture, Yuusuke Karasawa, 2013

"The way the space is divided inside in this house, you can tell it's a let-it-all-hang-out sort of place. You can see exactly what's going on, and the result is something exceptionally dynamic and beautiful to look at."

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House NA, Tokyo, Sou Fujimoto, 2011

"This one has a similar quality in that it, too, is encased almost entirely in glass. This is a situation where the clients like to be nomads in their own home: instead of [having] three floors as would typically be the case, the house has multiple small levels that serve various functions and can be adjusted to various needs—but they also can act as stairs or furniture. It's a very interesting way to live, simultaneously prescriptive, and yet, not at all. They have complete freedom, and yet they're given something that they have to figure out how to use."

House Snapped, Saitama, Saitama Prefecture, Naf Architect, 2012

"I just think it's a clever idea: it literally looks like a house snapped. To me, that epitomizes the humor and whimsy that a lot of these house designs incorporate. There's a freedom here to be playful, and some clients and architects are very open to that. It's nice to see it represented."

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Ring House, Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture, TNA, 2006

"This house is just extraordinary. It's quite tall and, again, it's encased in glass but it's out in the country. Part of the reason the architect was commissioned is because the land was hard to sell, so the developers decided to put a house on it and see what would happen. [The house is] wrapped with these ribbons of dark wood, and with the proportion of the house and the relationship of wood to glass, when you're inside you kind of feel like you're in a tree house."

Rooftecture S, Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture, Endo Shuhei, 2005

"It's just hanging on to the cliff. I chose it because it exemplifies the extreme solutions that often emerge in Japan. It's partly that people in Japan will build on just about anything. I really love how this house engages with this tiny sliver of land. It shows that with some creativity and some ingenuity, it's easy to turn a piece of land into something quite wonderful."

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4x4 House, Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture, Tadao Ando, 2003

"I really love the way the top floor contains the public spaces, largely because that's where the best view is. It faces the water and there's a view of a big bridge. In the U.S., there's a certain logic about where you put the public spaces. In Japan, the thinking is to put functional pieces where they best fit—in this case, to take advantage of the view being at the top. Often, that's where the best light is. This is made of Tadao Ando's signature concrete, which in this case is very elegant and something one could live quite comfortably with."

Jutaku: Japanese Houses, by Naomi Pollock (Phaidon), $25, phaidon.com.

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