For Masaki Endoh, designing houses is like "giving a present to people who want to make changes in their lives." Particularly people who have been consigned to live in the cramped quarters that are typical of Japanese homes. "But that's the reason we make such an effort to create something innovative," says Endoh, 42, one of Japan's most gifted home designers. Case in point: his mysterious-looking Natural Ellipse, a white egg of a building that looms unexpectedly over neon-sign-speckled love hotels in Tokyo's trendy Shibuya district.
True to its name, the steel structure, encased in a groundbreaking design of reinforced fiber-glass panels, is anchored to an elliptical ring. Only a skylight and spiral staircase penetrate the minimalist building's center. For this home, Endoh's brief was disarmingly simple. The client "wanted to have a big area" to live in, wrapped in a space eye-catching enough for it to make its mark on the psyche of Japan's architectural cognoscenti.
And it did. Wrestling with the challenge of creating a big enough space amid spatial and monetary restrictions, Endoh struck on the idea of using a balloon shape for the building. The result: a surprisingly spacious two-family house with just 335 sq. ft. of floor space.
The maverick Endoh aims to try something new for each project. In the case of Natural Strips II, a glass house completed this year, Endoh had a company that usually makes ducts for industrial plants twist a large iron plate and used the result as a column in the center of the house. The column works not only as a beautiful objet d'art but also as blinds for the bathroom and for the dressing room of the boutique on the ground floor.
Endoh's forward-looking approach has gained notice in the international architectural community and earned him the prestigious Best Newcomer award from the Japan Institute of Architects two years ago. But for Japan's homeowners, he has gained something much more valuable: breathing room.