Search Results for ‘Earth bricks’

Earth Bricks/ 土プロジェクト

Social Background

The modern architecture movement, which started in the early 1900s, utilized new mass produced materials such as steel, glass and concrete. Given this as a technological base, and using the same materials, buildings with a unified vocabulary were reproduced all over the world.

This method was a success in supplying inexpensive functional houses to the rapidly growing population in the urban areas. However it resulted in a loss of the uniqueness in the locality and of the individuality of places. This was disaster in terms of architecture trying to use region‐specific materials or architecture that is specific to the climate of the region.

In addition, an enormous amount of energy has been used/required to produce iron/steel, glass and concrete. It is time that we as architects consider the drastic change to the mechanism of producing architectural buildings.  The global awareness of the limited resources on earth, improvements to the environment and various attempts across different sectors are required.

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Why earth?

Soil came into being 4 billion years ago. It was generated through a combination of dead organisms and grains of minerals. Soil has been, and will continue to be a cradle of life.

Since the birth of mankind, humans have been creating their dwellings with their hand using the materials at hand. They would sometimes use wood, and stones on other occasions depending on availability.

When it comes to the soil, the material is available everywhere in the world, and there is no concern of depletion.

This is the reason we decided to develop a new architectural component using basically soil only, by adding scarce amounts of natural additives.

We started our researches in three directions.  To formulate a new architectural model of “soil + natural additives” which can be 100% recycled, to develop new architectural technologies that can be easily applied in scenes of natural disasters in and out of Japan, and to improve the specification of existing buildings using soil.

Earth Bricks

Yasuhiro Yamashita x Atelier TEKUTO

This is the first earth structure house to be built in Japan.

With the most generous support and understanding of our client, we were able to work in collaboration with universities and professionals from related fields to do numerous workshops and experiments in order to develop an earth brick masonry system using mud from the earth and other natural ingredients.
The “earth bricks” are 400mmx250mmx100mm in size and each one hand made, using molds, manual tools, earth and natural hardening ingredients (magnesium oxide etc.).
A total of about 2500 bricks were hand laid to complete the structure.

The plan is in the shape of a ‘comma-shaped bead’ or a traditional decorative bead that is was used as a lucky charm in the stone ages. Glass bricks topped the masonry walls in order to create a band of light just under the roof that would let in a softened natural light inside.
The partition walls and the upper floor are made of LVL panels. The ground floor was finished with polished terrazzo. Two skylights let natural light inside, illuminating the space enclosed by the earthen walls.

Glass Block /ガラスブロック

Social Background

Yamashita is intrigued by the way materials such as concrete, steel and glass has had such an impact on the way our physical world and landscape was formed in the 20th century. This has led to his drive to show, in his architecture, how materials and its structures play a significant role in forming our physical world.
In particular, he is strongly attracted to masonry structure. The reasons for this can be summarised in the following three points.

1. It is the major origin in Western architecture and a fundamental, historical structural system in architecture that has been used since ancient times.
2. Material, Structure and Finish are unified and the one material expresses all aspects of architecture.
3. Although each element is a small entity, they unite to form an integral piece of architecture.

Yamashita’s interests have spread to glass as a fragile material that may exert its strength depending on how it is applied and combined with other materials. The thinness of a flat pane of glass deters its use as a structural element, but a glass block has sufficient thickness to become structure. The void in the glass block filled with air also gives it an insulating effect allowing for a thermal environment usage.

This section introduces initiatives to achieve a ‘glass block masonry structure’. It springs out of a desire to critically question architectural norms and leave a positive trace in the long history of architecture.
With this motive a huge effort was made to show how glass can become a structural, thermal, environmental device, transmitting an abundance of light at the same time.

1.The weak join hands to demonstrate their strength

Crystal Brick’ (completed 2004)

A glowing structure

This house in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo, is a three storey, two-family home for a parent couple, a young couple and their two children. The client wanted the first floor to be the home of the parents and the second and third floors to be the homes of the younger couple, each with bright living spaces filled with light or a ‘sparkle’ or a “shimmer”, as the client put it, words that sprang out of the minerals that the client collects as a hobby. These initial discussions led us to focus on the use of glass blocks.

From the early stages of the project, experiments were conducted by architects, structural engineers, glass block manufacturers and researchers from universities. The aim was finding out a way in which glass blocks could be used as a structural element for the exterior walls.
Until then, there had been no examples, let alone attempts of glass blocks being used as structural element. Even the manufacturers themselves were hesitant. Yamashita on the other hand as always, was neither hesitant nor over-optimistic. His approach, when confronted with the unknown, is to carry out experiments, collect data and make judgements after accumulating enough information. After extensive experimentation, it became clear that the compressive strength of glass blocks could be used in a structural manner.

A small buffer material

As a structural element, a very thin steel flat bar lattice is constructed. The structure is so thin that by itself, the structural deformation of the lattice would be unacceptable as a building. After the glass blocks are laid into the lattice, the compressive qualities of the glass blocks stabilize the architecture. When completed, the steel flat bars are no longer visible and the whole building appears to have been made entirely of glass blocks. As a result, a beautiful shimmering living space is created and the allocation of transparent and semi-transparent glass blocks adds to its beauty.

Thin steel plates called steel flat bars: 19 x 65 mm are assembled in a 400mm x 600mm grid. By itself, steel flat bars are too weak as a structure. When six glass blocks of 190 x 190 x 95 mm are inserted into each 400mm x 600mm grid, the glass blocks bear the horizontal forces, while the steel flat bars are able to carry the compressive forces in a stable manner.

The key to this system was actually the small buffer element between the glass blocks and the steel.
To prevent direct contact between the glass blocks and the steel members, a thin cushion material was inserted in between the two materials. This buffer had to be stiff enough to transmit the relevant structural forces but at the same time be soft enough to protect the glass blocks from breakage. After extensive trials and errors using different materials, the solution was nothing special, just a 1 mm thick chloroprene rubber sheet and a 2 mm thick acrylic sheet combined.
The three elements of the structure, a steel flat bar, glass blocks and cushioning material are each very weak and fragile on their own, but the combination of these three elements allowed for a sturdy structural external wall that let light to pass through with no visible frames. The structure was patented for its ingenuity.

The spatial qualities of glass blocks

The completed glass block exterior looks like a soft luminescent object, shining softly at night. Inside, by using transparent and semi-transparent glass blocks in different places, we were able to create a living space with a soft ‘mistily’ shimmering light. The glass blocks support a steel-framed lattice ceiling, creating a space that seems to defy gravity and one’s sense of normal perception.

Pierre Chareau’s Glass House and Renzo Piano’s Maison Hermès are considered masterpieces of glass block architecture, but we are humbly proud to say we have achieved an apex in glass block architecture with a totally different approach from these examples.




2.Steel + glass block + ALC: three-way series

Twin-Bricks (completed 2008), Crystal Bricks II (completed 2011).


Homogeneous treatment of the transparent, the semi-transparent and the opaque

Pioneering the use of glass block structures with ‘Crystal Bricks’, we were also dealing with a design problem of how much light passes through these walls. We did so using transparent and semi-transparent glass blocks. The following projects are examples in which we incorporated opaque elements for further control of light while keeping in line with the structural cept of treating the elements equally. The projects are: ‘Twin-Bricks’, completed in 2008, and ‘Crystal Bricks II’, completed in 2011.

In both buildings, we decided to use ALC or Autoclaved Lightweight Concrete as the opaque element. ALC is usually used for external walls that is not a structural component, but just a barrier between the inside and the outside, similar to the original use of glass blocks. The choice of ALC came from a gut feeling which can only be based on many years of experience.
In the course of experimentation conducted in cooperation with universities and manufacturers, we discovered that glass blocks and ALC have almost equal compressive strength and tenacity. Although they are different materials but have the same structural qualities, affords the interchanging of glass blocks and ALC with no special considerations, assuring the stability and balance of forces.

The surfaces that let in light and external scenery (transparent glass blocks) and the surfaces that block views (ALC panels) are interchangeable and can be freely selected, so to speak, and they comprise a ‘flexible structure’. Cost savings are also achieved by replacing some of the glass blocks with ALC panels.




3.Cost reduction by integrating steel construction + glass block panel construction1

White ladybirds’ (completed 2008).


Flickering light from glass blocks.

As a variation of the challenges concerning glass blocks, we present a construction method using ready-made glass block unit panels. This was a project that started with requests from JEOL Glass company to utilize their special glass block panels.
The external walls cladded with tiles are made at a thickness of 95mm, so as to be aligned to the thickness of the 95 mm glass block. The reason for doing this was to integrate the tiles and the glass blocks in a continuous surface.
In order to accommodate the multi-inclined wall facade, the joints of the panels were made of special prefabricated steel panels comprised of 40 mm x 125 mm steel pipes that allow the angle of the panels to be changed freely. The external wall tiles are custom-made 145 x 145 mm tiles to match the glass block and the joints between the glass block and tiles.

From these innovations, the boundary between the wall and the opening is blurred, and the glass block and tiles appear to have the same texture during the day, while at night the glass block emerge as patches of light, somewhat similar to the appearance of a white ladybird.

“Resale value” -the key word of the project

“Resale value” was the keyword discussed with the client in the early stages of design, taking into account that Japan’s population had been declining since its peak in 2006, the site’s location, a place which may eventually be redeveloped, and the possibility of resale in five to ten years’ time. So we excuted a design with a capacity for the building to be converted into uses other than just residential. Another related request from this viewpoint was that the exterior tiles should keep its original beauty reducing its deterioration coming from ageing. So the tiles were custom ordered 145mm square tiles with a special Microguard finish, manufactured with the cooperation of INAX company.




  • LEAF Awards 2013 (shortlisted-awards to be announced in Sepetember 2013)

    Residential , Boundary House , Sustainable Development , Emergency Supply Warehouse , Future Architecture , Disaster Relief Public Housing in Kamaishi

  • Wood Design Award (Japan)

    Breakthrough Award , Boundary House

  • IBEC  Sustainable Residential Award

    Better Living Administrative Director’s Award , Earth Bricks

  • Good Design Awards, “Earth Bricks”

    Good Design Award , Earth Bricks

  • 18th Space Design Competition (Nippon Electric Glass)

    Grand Prize , Earth Bricks

  • Green Good Design, Super Long Lasting Prefabricated Houses

    Award of Excellence , A-ring

  • IBEC Sustainable Residential Award

    Grand Award , A-ring

  • Residential Architect Design Awards, Restoration/Preservation

    Grand Prize , Yachiyo

  • Japan Aluminum Association Award

    New Development Prize , A-ring

  • Kanazawa Beauty Cultural Landscape Award

    Award of Excellence , A-ring

  • Lighting Promotion Award

    Award of Excellence , A-ring & Aluminum House Project

  • Japan Association of Architectural Firms award

    Award of Excellence , Reflection of Mineral

  • 16th Space Design Competition (Nippon Electric Glass)

    Gold Prize , Ethiopia Millenium Pavillion

  • ARCHIP ARCHITECTURE AWARD,Private residence.Innovation

    Grand Prix , Reflection of Mineral

  • 15th Space Design Competition (Nippon Electric Glass), Gold Prize

    Gold Prize , Twin Bricks , Honorable Prize , White Ladybird


    Award , Reflection of Mineral

  • Japan Society For Finishing Technology in Japan Residential Award

    Residential Award , aLuminum House

  • Wallpaper Award

    the Best Bolthole , Reflection of Mineral


    Good Design Award , Lucky Drops

  • ar+d award

    1st Prize , Cell Brick

  • 11th Space Design Competition (Nippon Electric Glass)

    Gold Prize , Crystal Brick and many others


  • The disaster restoration public housing project for Kamaishi city (collaboration with Ma architecutural design office and Life and Shelter associates)

    Grand Prize

  • System Residence in 21th Century Competition (collaboration with Raum Architects/ARAI ARCHITECTS)

    Architectural Design Award

  • Seoul Performing Arts Center International Ideas Competition

    2nd Prize

  • Busan Eco-Center International Design Competition

    1st Prize

Joshu Tomioka Station Design Proposal

Tomioka City has many valuable assets. Historically it is a home of the registered world heritage of Tomioka Silk Mill, the oldest modern model silk reeling industry established in 1927. It also has the beautiful nature surrounded by the grandeur of wild mountains such as Mount Myogi.
We intend to design the station not only for the sake of railway but also as a “network station” to promote such regional assets such as nature, culture, history and business.

Our proposal is developed from the following three concepts:
(1)   Green tourism:Green tourism actively promotes sight seeing business by incorporating nature, culture, and people of the regional agricultural and fishing areas. We hope to establish a non-profit organization to construct a network system for the green tourism, with an intention to generate a new business for the city. We hope to design the future of the city as well as the station itself in collaboration with the citizens.
(2)Development of a new structure using regional building materials: We hope to utilize regional materials in the building as much as possible for sustainability. The exterior finish is earth bricks made of regional earth, which is easily available and also very cheap. Timber (Japanese cedar) from thinning is used as the interior finish. Structurally it is composed of steel structure and masonry structure.
(3) Double-skin wall system made of bricks and thinning timber
Double skin walls are composed of exterior walls composed of brick and interior walls composed of thinning timber. Glass boxes of various sizes and proportions are inserted into the walls randomly to let natural light inside the building. Natural ventilation system is enclosed within the double skin walls to control overall air circulation of the building.
We are planning brick-making workshops so that citizens are going to make bricks by their own hands. We hope that the station is also going to be made and be raised by the supporting hands of the citizens. History and traditional construction methods of Tomioka are going to be incorporated in our design.




Social Background

Today, the numbers of abandoned vacant houses are increasing all over Japan, causing major social concern. Unoccupied houses deteriorate rapidly and degrade the image and value of the area. It is also crucial for crime and disaster prevention, since abandoned houses can induce criminal activity more often than well-kept properties, and collapse in case of an earthquake and block evacuation routes.

Yamashita gave seminars on traditional houses in Keio University starting from 2005 and since then, Tekuto has sought for ways to utilize those houses as regional resources, which would otherwise become unfavorable legacies if not taken care of.



Tekuto Renovation Project

Ethiopia Millennium Pavillion (2009)

To commemorate the Ethiopian Millennium, the Embassy of Japan in Ethiopia asked us to create a pavilion that symbolizes our cultural exchanges. We started our design by focusing on both country’s traditional houses.

Ethiopian circular houses are consisted of simple stone walls and wooden roofs with tied joints. Traditional Japanese houses were built meticulously with wood, without using metal parts. We brought over an old Japanese house to Ethiopia and reassembled it side by side with an Ethiopian house. By reconstructing our traditional values, we believe the two cultures were able to come face to face at this pavilion.


Tekuto Renovation Project (Japan)

YA-CHI-YO (2009)

Meanwhile in Japan, TEKUTO began working on traditional residential buildings. In Shimane Prefecture, we dismantled the main structure of two traditional storehouses dating back to the Taisho Era (1912-26), that were about to be demolished. The parts were then brought to Hayama, in Kanagawa Prefecture, and reassembled on site. Wooden boards salvaged from the storehouses and 80-year-old bricks from Shanghai were reused for doors, window frames, and floors. Various materials from other regions, even from another country, old and new, were brought together and restructured in this new building.
By reconstructing an old house, the texture and the mood of traditional Japanese houses were revived in this modern house. An unprecedented sense of time and space came to birth.


Emergency Supply Warehouse

In 2011 the Great Tohoku earthquake and resultant tsunami caused vast areas of farmland to be damaged by sea water. One such heavily damaged area was Minami Sanriku. After the disaster we met the residents who informed us about the salt damaged earth which had become unfarmable.

Since Atelier Tekuto had unique experience in construction techniques dealing with earth as a building material they turned to us for help. Their request was for us to design and build an emergency supply warehouse using the salt damaged earth. Using our experience and additional research we invented a new construction method utilizing the Minami Sanriku earth.

During the construction process, our staff at Atelier Tekuto held workshops with local residents, corporations and many volunteers. We made earthen bricks, laid them out and literally built the building with our own hands. Since making earthen bricks does not require special skills or technique it was easy for everyone to join in. Many residents living in evacuation centers took part in our popular workshops.