Left: Atelier Bow-Wow, Small Case Study House (BBQ House), 2009, architectural drawing. Right: Atelier Bow-Wow, Small Case Study House (Hammock House), 2009, architectural drawing.


Tokyo-based architects Yoshiharu Tsukamoto and Momoyo Kaijima founded Atelier Bow-Wow in 1992; the firm is well known for its domestic and cultural architecture and its research exploring the urban conditions of multifunctional, ad hoc (or “pet”) architecture. Small Case Study House, a new work commissioned by REDCAT following a three-month residency, explores the postwar Case Study House program in Los Angeles. The exhibition, which opens on January 30, is their first solo show in the United States. Here Tsukamoto speaks about their latest project.

THE CASE STUDY HOUSE movement influenced many Japanese architects in the 1950s. Although it is referred to and talked about often in Japan, we found that in the United States it seemed to have been forgotten. Houses in the US are quite big compared with those in Japan. This speaks to something unique about the characteristics or behavior of people in the US. There is a tendency to buy, buy, buy, and then there is the need for space to put everything in the house, and the housing must have more space to store all of the goods and furniture.

Small Case Study House is our response to the size of homes in the United States. The question is, How can we make small houses important? In the sixteenth century, Sen-no Rikyu invented the teahouse. This is a very small, specialized building we can use today as a framework and translate to other types of activities. At REDCAT, we will exhibit three small case-study houses. We are focusing on three discrete, archetypal behaviors of people in Southern California. The first involves the use of the barbecue, the second the hammock, and the third is viewing the sunset.

The BBQ-house is in the shape of a stadium or coliseum; it has three barbecues in the middle. The purpose of the shape is to harness the heat from the barbecue and the heat of the people gathering around. Barbecue parties in California have a performative aspect. I did this once with a friend; he was like a performer in front of the barbecue! It’s very different from how we barbecue in Japan. I wanted to enhance the performative aspect of barbecue in this coliseum.

Hammock-house is a house without a floor; instead of standing in the house, you can hang from the branches of a tree! The space is roughly twenty-six feet wide by thirteen feet high. It consists of two hammocks, each hung on one side of the roof truss, which functions as a balance. For the piece to hold, there need to be sleepers on both ends of the truss beams, like a set of scales. It’s a building that plays with gravity.

In LA, every part of the city affords a beautiful sunset view. Twilight lasts very long there; I think it is one of the most beautiful moments. Sunsets involve a physical interaction between two spherical forms, the sun and the earth, and Sunset-house plays with these spherical forms. A half-spherical form catches the human body and the horizontal light from the sunset, and inside this concave shelter an orange light from the sunset reflects and concentrates on the viewer.

The original Case Study House was inspired by new construction techniques, especially steel-welding techniques, that were developed during the wars. For this exhibition, we used salvaged wood. I’m interested in recycling from old houses and reusing materials. Perhaps after the exhibition, the same wood will return again to the timber yard.

One of the premises that we established in our design studio at UCLA was densification of the urban environment. The Small Case Study House could be another house in your backyard garden or along the alley. It could be an added element in LA’s dispersed landscape, a powerful element to make the city denser than today. Then the city would become more walkable.

Passive participation in public space is something that needs to be discussed. I want to stimulate a sense of practice in public space through art exhibitions and by proposing mobile structures or huge furniture that is functional for local people. We visit the site of our exhibitions and observe the types of behavior that are unique to each city, and we explore which types of devices or tools help support certain modes of behavior. However, we aim to transform this existing behavior by mixing and deforming these devices and tools. I would really like to put the barbecue house in a park or on the corner of a street, for example, or the sunset house on the beach or the top of a hill. People could gather there, spend some time together, and make it a very small piece of public space.

— As told to Sondra Fein