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Sunday, June 10, 2001

Learning to live in a house with attitude

Staff writer

Architects Ben Matsuno and Kumi Aizawa have a dream in which homes are not just for sleeping and serve as more than just private spaces for residents only. But the husband and wife team doesn't intend to sit back and wait for society to change. By forming Life & Shelter Co., they're putting their architectural vision into action.

The first result is the "y3" house, built in 1998. Located in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, the house looks like a warehouse, with its reinforced-concrete walls and steel-frame windows. Why y3? The residents are the Yoshida family -- mother and two sons -- all economically independent but with a common belief: that a home should be like a strong shelter that each member of the family can use in any way they like.

With the family's desires in mind, Matsuno designed a house with a difference. Besides the usual rooms, the house also has a spacious 50-sq.-meter room on the second floor that can be used for a party, gallery . . . or for anything else they might want to do.

"Nowadays, living in the city tends to deprive people of having conversation with neighbors," said Matsuno, 32. "People, especially children, are losing the ability to communicate with others. A house more open to the outside world may keep that from happening."

Obviously, a house with a spare 50-sq.-meter room is not going to fall within everyone's budget, but for Matsuno and Aizawa, 31, it represents only the end point of their lifestyle philosophy. You needn't be rich to live in harmony with others and to learn how to communicate: it's an attitude thing. "If people are acquainted with architecture at an early age, it will be easier for them to be more flexible and free, and to have original ideas when the time comes to have their own houses," Matsuno said.

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