Minus K HouseBack to Projects list
A Square in Space, the Minus-K House in Shanghai
The international airport and the new deep-water port of Shanghai are located in the district of Nanhui, which is part of Pudong New Area. This suburban area with its huge infrastructure is the perfect place for production of export goods. Many factories are scattered across the former agricultural land. Everyone who lands or takes off at the international airport looks from above at the patchwork of industrial production, infrastructure, old villages, drainage ditches and vegetable fields. In this heterogeneous context with very different scales and functions, Satoko Saeki and Kok-Meng Tan of the Shanghai based firm KUU designed a duplex, composed of a normal dwelling for the family of a worker combined with a weekend house for the owner of a slipper factory in the compound of the firm's warehouse.
The location seems already odd as well as the program. The designers based their layout on 19 squares, each three by three meters, to form an irregular grid. On the first sight, it reminds the Dutch structuralist movement of the 1960s, advocated by architects like Hermann Herzberger or Aldo van Eyck. On the second sight, one can get a clue of the specific Chinese cultural context for such an experiment. A shared table forms the centre of the duplex. Two kitchen squares and two courtyards are placed diagonally at each corner of the table, enabling the residents to face each other while cooking through an opening in the central cross of the walls. The relationship of public/private or better collective/individual is challenged by such an arrangement of space.
This recalls the experience normal Chinese people had until recently with shared kitchen, bathroom or communal courtyards and semi public collective neighbourhood streets. But in difference to the forced arrangement by shortage of housing, in this case a choice is offered, that creates a possibility for communication in a cultured way. With this concept the architects are interested in the creation of experience and activation of behaviour, which is anyway a part of the collective memory. In this way the rigidity of the grid is used for the creation of possibility based on the specific local cultural background. With six double high units and five courts, the open and the closed cubes create a playful interaction between inside and outside, between vertical and horizontal. Especially the horizontal orientation is of importance, because almost each of the squares is interconnected and allows views and a liberated feeling amidst the rigid square composition of the single elements. The functional arrangement and the rigidity of the basic layout created a structure that can be used by each resident in a very personal way, but offers in the same time possibilities for communication or retreat with very simple means.
Simplicity could serve as another keyword for the formal expression and the use of material. All brick walls in the building are structural. To blur the notion of inside and outside, the walls are unplastered and have the same rough look in both locations. The red bricks and the ceiling made of concrete are simply painted white. A part of the floors and the furniture are made of wood, carefully designed, to fit into the space arrangement. Even the cotton curtains for the Minus-K House are designed by KUU with a variety of patterns and colours, made by local craftsman and sewn by Chihoko, who is trained in making kimonos.
In contrary to the formal expressions usually found for the design of a private house – which is often used as a showcase for personal wealth – this duplex is created by local handcraft and rooted in the need of the residents. The recourse to the specific spatial experience of the people offers an experimental way for a shared lifestyle between in and out and between neighbours, based in the contemporary culture.
This building was awarded the 27th Shinkenchiku Award in 2011.