Shigeru Ban conceptualised Shishi-Iwa House, an all timber, boutique retreat in Japan meant exclusively for creative souls

AUG 20, 2019 | By Meenakshi Shankar
CLOCKWISE, FROM LEFT The upper floor incorporates a bedroom with a private balcony terrace; Located in Karuizawa, the three two-storeyed villas allow guests to interact with nature; Architect Alvar Aalto’s furniture shares space with Shigeru Ban’s bespoke creations in the resort’s Grand Room; Photographs by Hiroyuki Hirai

Situated in Karuizawa, a mountain resort town in Japan’s Nagano Prefecture, famed for its scenery, Shishi-Iwa House is a collection of three two-storeyed villas overlooking Mount Asama. The retreat is crafted in a curvilinear form with an undulating roof and carefully curated interiors designed and selected by Pritzker Prize winner Shigeru Ban. “I was interested in developing a distinct design language befitting its pristine location,” says the architect.

“We created unique openings in the guest rooms and social areas to facilitate the best views of the garden and allow outdoor access.” Imposing timber-framed glass doors—the largest of their kind in Japan—lead to the library and reception room. The library opens up to the resort’s garden featuring over 250 trees that create a living backdrop for guests, presenting the seasonal changes in the colour of the foliage. Matching the understated interior design is an exquisite art collection, which includes original works from Japanese masters of the Gutai period in the 1960s as well as some prominent international artists.

One of its best features is tableware by Miyama, one of the oldest traditional ceramic makers in Japan. The design reflects Ban’s tenacious exploration of materials and techniques in response to the site’s context. Noted for using cardboard in his designs, the creative has fitted the public areas and the bedroom of the retreat with timber and paper tube elements, giving the impression of a sophisticated treehouse.