For his family home in Houston, architect Christopher Robertson was inspired by the Tadao Ando–designed buildings he saw in Japan and decided to emulate their sequenced entries and concrete minimalism
Perhaps the most well-known example of an architect drawing inspiration from Japan is the late Frank Lloyd Wright. His unfolding, earthbound home designs owe much to Japanese modernism, though they have been dubbed distinctly “American” in the architectural canon. With that in mind, it only makes sense that a trip to Japan feels like a rite of passage for many architects in the United States. Certainly, when Christopher Robertson visited the country, it turned out to be—he based the design for his own home on what he observed.
“In Japan, we saw projects by architect Tadao Ando and we made the decision to do a concrete house, costs aside,” says architect Robertson, who runs the firm Robertson Design with his wife, Vivi Nguyen. “We love the slightly Brutalist minimalist approach Ando takes and wanted to re-create some of the magic in his projects into ours.” The home, where they live with their young family, is essentially made up of two stacked volumes, one in wood and one in concrete, accessed via a sequenced entry that sends visitors through a rock-garden-style courtyard into a small entry, and then opened to a much larger open-plan kitchen/living room/dining room (“You don’t just walk into an Ando building; there’s a procession,” says Robertson). The sequence is very common in Japanese residential architecture and was emulated by Frank Lloyd Wright in his American home designs.
Surrounding the home is a concrete parapet that encloses the entry courtyard. And floating above is the bedroom level, which is wrapped in a façade of Siberian larch, a sustainable softwood that the architects chose to leave unfinished, “with no experiment,” he admits.
While the concrete volume shows very few windows from the front, it opens up to window walls and four-by-four-foot skylights on the interior that let in lots of (diffused) Texas sun. “From the outside, the house reads like a concrete bunker, but when you enter it’s open and filled with light,” explains Robertson. “We wanted to play up a sense of surprise.”
On the ground floor, a sense of surprise can all be found in the wall-length custom cabinetry by Poliform that begins in the dining room, then extends through the kitchen and morphs into a fireplace for the living room. And as one ascends the stairs to the wood-wrapped bedroom level, a mezzanine library provides a cozy nook for reading. Though small, the home is inviting and liveable, and a perfect place for the family to relax and work (it also serves as headquarters for Robertson Design). “The house feels very warm for a house made of concrete,” says the architect. “Concrete really is a living material, it’s not this perfect thing. You never know what you’re getting when you take the formwork off.”
Explore more of the inspired home below.
This article first appeared in Architectural Digest US