Piers Taylor and Caroline Quentin travel to Japan, a country that combines innovation with traditional design. And with land at a premium here, small is definitely beautiful.
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I think it's time, Caroline, to go and see how the other half live.
Talk about welcome to my humble abode!
Cor, that is a whole lot of house!
He's Piers Taylor, an award-winning architect.
I mean, the depth of this wall, it's 4ft thick.
After you, my lord.
And she's Caroline Quentin,
acclaimed actress and passionate property developer.
This house has the perfect ratio of bedrooms to swimming pools.
We've been given the keys
to some of the most incredible houses in the world...
If we were left alone here for any amount of time,
-I have a feeling...
-We would ruin this house.
..to discover the design, innovation, passion and endurance
needed to transform architectural vision into an extraordinary home.
It's so glamorous, Piers.
We're travelling the globe...
..meeting architects and owners, to explore how their daring homes
respond uniquely to local landscape, climate and culture.
I think this is probably the greatest house I've ever been in.
Whether it's battling the elements to construct a dream home on
dramatic Scandinavian terrain...
The architect was nervous that things would go wrong.
He couldn't bear to look at it.
..pushing the boundaries of European experimentation...
-I think that's it.
-I think it is.
When I looked at the proposal, at the beginning, I was almost shocked.
..celebrating craftsmanship and beauty in Asia...
They take away the extraneous,
and they leave you with what is beautiful.
..or going all out for glamour in America.
You just do what you do best, is to create a masterpiece.
Piers! Is this too Miami?
We're in Japan, the Land of the Rising Sun,
to find ground-breaking homes that captivate and inspire.
In a place that combines miniaturisation and microchips with
ritual and tradition, it'll be fascinating to see what their
architects have accomplished.
What do you think of when you think of Japanese buildings?
I think of an extraordinary attention to detail...
I think of tea ceremony...
..and spaces that are highly ordered...
-Yeah, that wouldn't be good for you or me.
Japan's many mountain ranges mean only a quarter of the land is buildable.
With a population of nearly 130 million,
Japanese architects know that small is beautiful.
And whether it's an architect let loose on the coast...
This is like Stonehenge or something.
..a reinvention of an urban townhouse...
Where are we now?
..or a woodland fantasy to grow old in...
It's magical, mysterious, and romantic.
..we'll discover how some of Japan's best architects
can package the old and the new in all sorts of shapes and sizes.
It's not big, but it is clever.
Our first home is two hours north-east of Tokyo in Izura,
an affluent coastal area known for its fishing.
The sea is everywhere. I mean, it's an abundant source of food here.
I think each Japanese person eats about 3lb a week...
-3lb a week, OK.
-..of fish. I mean, that's what's...
3lb is, well, you know, it's half the size of your average baby.
80% of the Japanese live by the sea.
There are nearly 30,000km of coastline,
but in a place highly prone to earthquakes,
it's not always the best place to be.
In 2011, the north-east coast was hit by the Tohoku earthquake
and tsunami - the costliest natural disaster in modern history.
I'm glad to say that today the rebuilding is almost complete,
and that traditional techniques and materials are very much in evidence.
This, to me, seems sort of typically Japanese.
It's the wood again, which must be right up your street, isn't it?
Well, timber's a really resilient material, it's great
in earthquake zones. It deals with moving around
and that shake that you get in earthquakes.
Steel will fail instantly, whereas timber won't.
The house we're going to go and see today is entirely made of wood.
-That's why we're coming.
-Indeed, and I think the clue as to who owns
this house might be right in front of us here,
because he's a fisherman, isn't he?
-Look at this stuff, isn't it gorgeous?!
There's complete order to this.
Yeah. Do you reckon it's organised chaos?
He knows where everything is.
This is like my father-in-law's barn.
Here we go, here's your horoscope.
Oh, yes, look. "Today you are going to go and visit...
"..a wooden house." That's uncanny!
But even having read our horoscopes and having found ramshackle tackle,
we failed to predict what we're about to see.
I think this is it. It is it.
And it's not a fisherman's cottage, is it?
It's quite dramatic, isn't it?
It's really dramatic, REALLY dramatic.
House in Izura, though built for a fisherman and his family,
is hardly the cottage one might have expected.
Built on a steep hillside, perched on three structural pedestals,
this house is earthquake resistant, but also, through its clever design,
manages to marry an approach to modernity
with traditional Japanese craft.
This timber construction is so evident,
the way the joints are expressed at the corner,
the way everything sits on top of everything else and steps out,
like a tree. And actually,
the silver birches here are a little bit like the structure that holds up
the whole of the house.
It's got huge energy, hasn't it?
-It does, it does - like you.
-Just whooshes up.
Yes, exactly! It's sort of throws itself up in the air, doesn't it?
It does, yeah, and actually it's very ritualistic, making an entrance.
# I've been lifted, lifted, lifted... #
The biggest challenge building House in Izura was to create a
stable flat platform, not only on a steep hillside,
but in an area at high-risk from earthquakes.
The architect's solution was to build three timber structures -
splayed pillars set in plinths of concrete.
Flexible, but still strong enough to support the house.
The wooden box above is V-shaped.
One wing contains the kitchen, dining room, living room
and a master bedroom suite and an external corridor that
runs the length of the building. In the other wing,
there's a hallway, an office and four more bedrooms.
Above is a study and storage room, and at the back,
a garage and workshop for the owner's fishing gear.
# I've been lifted... #
This is a workplace as well as a home,
wrapped up in inventive timber construction.
It's like a great big firework shooting up into the sky.
I mean, this is like some extraordinary tree house in here.
I'm going in. If I don't come out, Caroline, it's been lovely!
Actually, I think I'm stuck now.
No, you can't be stuck with your little nine-inch hips.
-Come and have a look.
-No, I won't be able to get in there, darling,
there's two very good reasons why not.
It's all built on a great big termite mound.
But actually, the underbelly of this house is one of the most beautiful
things I've ever seen.
Yes, it's a lovely view from here, as well.
So young and agile!
Building these columns meant that every member had to be tested for
its individual strength,
because every new building in Japan has to be earthquake resistant.
This really does feel ceremonial, doesn't it, under this?
It's wonderful to walk under a building to enter it
and then clearly up the stairs, here, to the front door.
And closer up, the attention to detail really becomes clear.
It's interesting how Japanese this is, though.
Look at the bolts on all of these.
I mean, I could talk all day about bolts, but look at them, I mean,
these decorative bolt heads that run along here.
-Don't you think they're lovely?
Inside the house, there's a real celebration of timber,
with an amazing attention to detail in elements such as this
Before we explore, we do what the Japanese do.
I would take a bit of time to get used to this.
-You and shoes.
-I'm so uncouth.
When in Rome...or Izura!
I like that idea in Japanese homes that when you come in and you've
taken your shoes off, it sort of slows you down to enter the home.
And, again, it's that sense of ceremony.
That's right. I mean, on one hand it's a bit of a pain,
to keep taking your shoes off every time you go in and out,
but somehow also it changes your rhythm.
Nice screen, isn't it lovely, that?
And into this, again, wooden living space.
Inside, the unashamed loyalty to wood continues,
with an almost sauna-like devotion.
But perhaps more importantly, timber is also the perfect structural
material for earthquake zones.
It's not open plan...
..but the space isn't hemmed in by conventional walls.
I love it that it's only just wide enough to squeeze through.
Yeah. This is just a normal-sized room, but, brilliantly, you can see
through both sides,
so you've got light coming in from both sides of the building.
It's quite modest, isn't it, the scale of these spaces?
It is, because, from outside, it looks absolutely enormous.
But when you come inside, the spaces are really quite small and domestic.
A tiny fisherman's cottage.
Yeah. Exactly what we thought it would be.
None of these rooms are particularly large.
In Japan, it's the quality of the space, rather than the quantity,
Internally, there's an emphasis on making the use of space as efficient
The bedrooms are tiny -
hidden away inside this white piece of joinery.
It has everything you need, including foldout beds.
Somewhere for the homework.
I bet Japanese children actually do their homework.
Between the two external skins of the house,
the architect has designed a light-filled veranda.
This place is typical of many traditional Japanese houses that
would've had walkways between storm shutters and shoji screens.
But it's beautifully made out of all this cedar.
Traditional paper screens have been replaced by glass.
The storm shutters have become walls of windows which,
in a climate of such seasonal extremes,
ventilate and cool the house as well as keeping insects out.
These fly screens are absolutely necessary in these corridors,
because here in Japan, the mosquitoes can be a real nuisance.
But what I love about this corridor, this indoor-outdoor corridor,
as it were, is all these windows open.
So you get a wonderful through-draught and then,
when the mosquitoes come, shut them out.
Opening windows isn't remarkable in itself,
but it becomes extraordinary when there are more than 160 of them.
And the amount of windows is just the beginning.
This is a complex piece of construction on a steeply sloping
site and these columns support a very big beam that connects
back to the bedrock.
And then, above that, there is a roof.
There is another beam.
And, between them, there's not a lot of visible structure.
But, cleverly, in the zone of the wall is cross bracing,
which effectively holds the roof up.
And then there are layers of louvres, which give solidity, and
within those layers of louvre there are then strategically placed
windows that never sit, of course, where the cross bracing is.
So although they seem randomly placed,
they miss all of the cross bracing.
But I think, cleverly, the edge of the house steps back and tapers and,
in a way, that is like a tree.
So when you look at it and you see it in this forest,
it makes complete sense.
The owner of the house is Hiroshi Watanabe.
He's always lived nearby with his family, but not on this site.
What made you decide to build a brand-new house here?
What did you ask for, what did you say you wanted of your architect?
The architect is Kotaro Anzai.
Much of his work majors on timber construction, and consistent in all
of his work is a sharp focus on material, light and detail.
Is this a challenge for you to design and construct this house,
given its complexity?
And what about the idea of these two buildings supported on treelike
structures that come out of the ground?
This is a region where there was a terrible tsunami very recently.
How do you deal with that in construction now?
We look to our homes to protect us from the elements.
For Hiroshi's family, who suffered so badly in the earthquake,
home is more than a refuge.
You lost your house in the earthquake.
How did that feel and has this house helped you get over that?
For Hiroshi and his family, this house is a fresh start and renewed hope.
And this house is tailor-made,
allowing both domestic life and business to flourish together.
-Hello. This is Hiroshi's workplace.
-This is his shower room.
I love it. This is how all kitchens should be.
Just make as much mess as you like and sluice it all down.
Isn't it fantastic, in a world where people are increasingly building
live-work spaces, to see the place that is actually a work-live space.
So none of that kind of hiding things away or feeling one has to be
kind of neat in a kind of... In a sort of groovy, modern house,
you've got to hide all the stuff you are working with.
It's there and it's beautiful.
Because those groovy, modern houses are so spick and span.
That's what ruins them, isn't it?
Do you not have all your architectural stuff out everywhere?
I have nothing. I just have...
I know that's not true!
Our next home in Japan takes us to the other side of Tokyo,
to the coastal backwater of Izukogen.
Japan's population is rapidly ageing.
More than a quarter are over 65.
So now people are beginning to think of inventive ways of making old-age
something to look forward to.
The house we're going to see is far from the conventional notion
of a retirement home.
Its wooded hillside location has forced us to ditch the car
and to find the house on foot.
This is a completely different way of entering a home for elderly people,
-It is, because we'd never, ever do this normally, would we?
Because it's difficult terrain, so you'd have to concentrate hard.
It would use you physically in a different way.
But it takes you on a journey, doesn't it?
-It takes you on a journey away from the stuff of the everyday into
a magical world.
What do you think we'll see?
I don't know. It's very exciting, because I think the idea of treating
people once they hit their later years as sentient human beings with
imagination and a desire to be excited and stimulated
is really important.
As if at a certain age you're suddenly not interested in any of
the beauty of life, or the magic.
-You're told you're not allowed to.
I've never seen a place that has a roof anything like that.
It's a bit like pencils sticking up in the air, isn't it?
It is. Sharpened pencils, yeah, yeah.
Jikka House is an extraordinary grouping of primitive-looking
tepee-like structures echoing Japan's ancient past.
It isn't just a home, though,
it's also run as a cafe and community centre for the local area.
Here, the owners have resisted the tendency to become more conservative in old age.
It's a romantic building.
This whole journey about arriving through the woods, up the path.
I mean, if there was an ordinary building at the end of it,
it wouldn't be worth it, so it has to be magical, mysterious and romantic.
-It's a fairy tale.
-It is, it is.
It's like something from Hans Christian Andersen.
You almost expect there to be a little goblin or a witch
living in there, who, if you don't behave well,
will put you in a cage and feed you until you're so fat you can't move.
The five pods with their conical wooden roofs seem almost boat-like
Reminiscent of a hobbit house,
I wouldn't be surprised to see Bilbo Baggins inside,
clipping his enormous toenails.
I mean, this little arched doorway.
Perfectly Caroline Quentin sized.
It could be made for me, couldn't it?
-It could. Yes.
-And this is a wonderful little courtyard.
I mean, it's so cute, so pretty, with a view out to the ocean.
It's really very beautiful.
And I can see into what I think is, I don't know, actually,
is it a dining room or a kitchen?
And all you can see is, actually English tea sets.
I mean, it's kind of more bonkers on the inside.
The word "eccentric" hardly does this place justice.
It's just all so quirky.
Sitting on this plateau in the woods, the challenge was to build an
interesting home that could also be a sociable meeting place.
The solution was five linked pods beneath conical roof forms.
At its heart, the largest room contains a kitchen and workbench
with enough space to welcome guests and act as the cafe.
Two pairs of rooms either side provide bedrooms,
a work and preparation space, and a bathhouse at the far end.
Wow, what a beautiful room.
This is the biggest room in this house, but it's still quite small.
But it doesn't feel small because of the loftiness of this roof that
is this conical structure. It's almost cathedral-like.
And there are 30 pieces of timber that come down from the oculus and
bear on this reinforced concrete external wall.
The concrete that's used for the walls throughout the house are still
visible here, so you've got this wonderful industrial finish,
but then cut deep in are these gorgeous arches.
So when you're lying in bed, you're still very much in touch with nature.
With their tepee-like quality, the warmth of these insulated timber
roofs remind us of the natural world, and the quirky, decorative
touches and eclectic furniture all go to make this a cosy environment.
And here is a bath.
But it's not like any bath I've ever seen before.
It's like an ammonite -
a shell shape made out of concrete.
With its gentle slope, it's also designed for wheelchair access.
And not only that,
but this whole thing just continues with that theme
of treating people with age and perhaps some disabilities
with a sense of dignity, as if they still have an imagination
and like to be challenged and excited.
This is an extraordinary set of spaces linked together by a series
of unusual shapes, curves and angles.
Jikka House's structure was built in two key stages.
First, the semi-circular walls had to be cast in concrete before the
conical roof forms could be added,
which were then clad in hundreds of individual pieces of cedar.
It's become softer now, after a few years.
And, in a way, it feels magical.
Its owners are old friends, Nobuko and Sachiko,
who met working together cooking bento boxes
for the elderly in Tokyo.
They open their home as a cafe for the local community.
So what can I do to help?
-Can I help you in here?
We are now making a soup.
-Vegetable soup. Very good.
-A little bit Japanese style.
-Here, look at these big mushrooms.
Never eat anything bigger than your own head.
Soon after meeting, Nobuko and Sachiko had the idea of creating a
purpose-built house that would cater for their needs as they got older.
You met how long ago?
20 or more years ago.
20 years ago?
And how did you meet?
Maybe living near, closer.
Neighbours, you were neighbours?
-So when did the idea come to build this house?
About ten years before.
For our senior age.
And I'm just worrying about loneliness.
And then we are thinking, "How about helping each other?
-"Let's try it."
-It's a brilliant idea for you two to think,
"How are we going to manage?"
-Having found the land, all they needed was an architect and
there's nothing like keeping it in the family.
So your son, when you bought this land, how old was he?
Maybe 12 years old or more.
But now he's grown-up and he's an architect?
How very lucky!
-I asked him.
-Did you say, "Please be an architect"?
-"Make for me a house!"
-Did you, when he was little, did you say,
"Please be an architect"?
Fantastic. I must ask my son that.
I have a son. I'm going to say to him, "Please build me a house, William."
No chance. He wants to be a pro basketball player.
As an architect, building your first house is important.
Building it for your mother comes with added pressure,
so I need to find out - why this?
She never wanted...
She never wanted a statement,
she just wanted a place where people could gather and feel at home.
You can gather and feel at home in a normal suburban Japanese house.
-This is not a normal suburban Japanese house like I've seen.
She wanted many people from many different backgrounds,
so rather than, like, a traditional Japanese house,
or like a Western house,
it naturally became this primitive gathering space.
Like the houses from the Stone Age,
where people gather around their fire.
But you were really young when she asked you to do this, were you not?
I think I was still in school and she told me about her dream and she
said that, at one point in her life, she was going to do it.
So I always had that sense that I was going to do this mother's house.
So I had to do it right.
It was a tough one.
Whose idea was it to have these wonderful shapes?
-He made that choice?
And what did you think when you saw it?
We were very surprised.
I never imagined such a shape.
Yeah. And were you pleased by the shape, did you like it?
-You did like it? Straight away you thought it was good?
Now, we so love to stay here.
At present, only Sachiko lives here.
The plan is that, on retirement, they'll live here together.
For now, though, the cafe is a social hub and helps bring the local
Why do people come here? Is it because of friends, or...?
May come with the friends to eat together and talking, talking, talking.
So this is a very nice time, to stay here.
Really nice, really nice.
I love to hear that sound.
They are laughing at something.
I love because the space is so nice, I think.
And I bet the sound of people talking, laughing,
because of the dome, is even more beautiful.
I like those... Right up.
You've got a very clever son.
Don't worry, it's all right!
Most days, the restaurant is full.
A warm welcome, good company and a great three-course meal
for seven quid mean it's always busy.
In honour of our visit, there's a British classic on the menu.
It's traditional. It's called shepherd's pie.
-Did you like shepherd's pie?
Yeah, I like shepherd's pie.
It's marvellous to see it eaten with chopsticks.
Whatever's on the menu, they're definitely getting their vitamins.
-And she is 82.
How do you feel now, coming back to this house?
I'm really happy to see this somewhat eccentric-looking thing
being loved by a lot of people.
Like, that just amazes me.
And I almost feel like I didn't...
I didn't screw it up.
How do you say, "It's a beautiful building," in Japanese?
I love not quite knowing whether I'm sitting in someone's house,
or whether I'm sitting in a cafe.
And yet everybody's entirely comfortable here.
And the stuff of this room is so beautiful.
The surfaces, the materials, this white ceramic on this rough concrete.
But also the space itself, this beautiful conical structure that
floats above us.
Acoustically, it's perfect.
You just hear that kind of little twitter of people laughing and
talking and discussing things and enjoying their meal.
I think this could be a new model which shows us that the world of the
domestic, that we're familiar with,
is something we need to keep with us as we get older.
The reason people feel at home here is that this is like their home.
Certainly, as I get older, I would love it if I felt I had an
environment to go into like this, where there was a dignity and a beauty.
We should all aim for that, I think,
and also get people to walk up very steep hills,
because it keeps you young. It's a model for the future.
-I'll drink to that.
-We do like our tea, don't we?
A decent cup of tea with a chum is always a recipe for happiness.
And with the added ingredient of enchanting architecture,
this story is destined for a happy ending.
It's like something from a fairy tale.
It's also Kireina Tatemono.
Hey, yes, it IS a beautiful house.
We're leaving the countryside.
In a nation where more than nine out of ten people live in cities,
Japan has a reputation for some of the most interesting urban
environments in the world.
So we've come west to Hiroshima -
now a thriving modern city that's reinvented itself since the nuclear
attack in 1945.
It's wonderful the way they've rebuilt this city, actually,
-Yeah. And of course,
because it was rebuilt after the war,
you could set it out on a grid.
Big boulevards, tight, tall buildings.
Could do with a coffee, actually, couldn't you?
Gagging for a cup of coffee.
I think we have to go to a vending machine here.
Yes, shall we try a vending machine?
Coffee in a can is a far cry from the elegant tea ceremony
I was expecting.
-Laden down with groceries - at least
-am, thanks, Piers -
we're negotiating the hectic streets of Hiroshima in search of an
Nestling between two neighbouring blocks,
at first glance this house is very unassuming.
But, on closer examination,
you can see there's something really special going on here.
In a way, it's a cross between the two buildings either side of it,
And isn't it pretty, like a little cube of black ice?
Very pretty, very pretty.
Very discreet, as well.
But those glazed bricks are a little bit like the tiles that every
building seems to be made of round here.
But that's a much more exciting way of doing it, isn't it?
-I think we need to go in.
-No, Piers, no. There's a crossing.
So, having helped my dear old friend safely across the road,
at last, peace.
This is like a decompression chamber.
-Suddenly the city's behind.
Yes, and we're inside a gold-and-black beautiful container.
A moment ago, we were in the middle of Hiroshima, in the bustling city.
But where are we now?
Here, the architect's challenge is to create a sanctuary for the family
right here in the heart of dynamic, high-octane, downtown Hiroshima.
At street level, behind a full-width garage,
is a self-contained apartment with sunken courtyard.
The main family space and open-plan living, dining and kitchen area
are on the first floor.
Bedrooms and bathrooms are up above.
Like many urban terraced houses with outdoor spaces front and back,
this building has a courtyard at the rear and an exquisitely planted
garden in the front,
behind a nine-metre-high veil of handmade glass bricks,
elevating this ordinary inner-city terrace
into a thing of breathtaking beauty.
These cast glass blocks are fantastic.
I mean, silvery scale-like bits of glass that keep the city at bay.
I bet it changes day and night all the time.
The colours must be amazing.
Sunsets, sunrise, the traffic at night.
I mean, an ever-changing screen of glass.
But, from outside, it's quite blank, it's quite mute.
It doesn't give away its secret until you come in, at the same time,
so you don't quite know what's behind here,
if there is anything behind here,
or how different it is from the buildings either side,
of which this is the love child.
What an exciting love child it is.
This atmosphere is mind-blowing.
I mean, it's kind of infinitely special.
Everything is very pared back, very simple, very orthogonal, and yet,
the space feels profound.
I totally agree with you.
It's just, I don't really know what orthogonal means.
Orthogonal just means that everything is 90 degrees.
Perpendicular to everything else, you know, everything is square-on.
It may be orthogonal, Mr Taylor, but it's also zen.
A tranquil, meditative space.
The perfect place to consider the beautifully simple
and the simply beautiful.
It's one of the few houses I've been in that doesn't have a view out,
and yet we don't feel claustrophobic, do we?
We're sort of held in this reverie by these two courtyards
and the subtle and clever manipulation of light.
And through the trees, through the maples,
that glass screen turned into an abstract work of art.
It's impossible to tell what's passing.
One moment, trams and the cars are storm clouds.
The next moment it could be just a silver river of light.
There's no way of knowing, actually, what those things are.
They just become...
-..abstracted and kind of beautiful.
All of the living spaces,
including the upstairs bedrooms that look onto the courtyard below,
are filled with light that filters
through the glass blocks and the trees.
But there's also natural light right in the centre of the house.
This is the middle of the house, which should be the darkest bit,
and it's painted dark grey.
But it's lit from above by this huge roof light
that brings the light right the way down through the house.
The architect has also experimented with skylights,
and this one in the floor of the courtyard doubles up
as a glass-bottomed pool that
sends dappled light into the hallway below.
At the front of the house,
where the big, important spaces
look onto those big, important courtyards,
at the back, these small, intimate spaces
look onto small, intimate courtyards.
In a place where land is in short supply,
giving up valuable living space to create gardens
may seem like an indulgence.
But here in the city, the hot summers are even hotter,
so the value of a garden like this is really something quite special.
And then, this curtain replaces what would have been a wind chime and
tells you that the breeze is coming.
The courtyard at the front is beautiful.
But the three outdoor spaces at the back of the house play a crucial role
of introducing light and nature into the other areas.
Ah, there you are.
-Hello. Have you brought me some food?
-I'll have that in a minute.
-What are you up to, darling?
Well, I've just been wondering about how this house works,
because, at the front of this house
are all the big, grand living spaces,
but at the back, all around here,
are all these little, intimate spaces.
And they look into this courtyard
and they have a very different quality than the big, grand spaces
that exist out the front.
And the Japanese, it strikes me, are absolutely brilliant at the edit.
They seem to edit life so beautifully.
They take away the extraneous
and they leave you with what is beautiful,
and I think it is a sensibility that I'm just so enjoying.
And this house seems to be a prime example of that.
I don't know what sauce that is, darling, I couldn't read it.
It might have chilli in it, I think.
-Oh, no, it's a little sprinkly thing.
-I think it is raw chilli.
-Mm, you'll enjoy that.
Paring ideas down to bare essentials may seem simple,
but the architect took a huge risk here.
There was no real way of knowing how the 6,000 bespoke bricks
would work as an entire wall.
This is a beautiful piece of glass by anyone's standards,
but it's made from borosilicate, which is optical glass,
and that means it has exceptionally high levels of transparency.
And it just sings with light.
The architect for this 13-tonne wall was Hiroshi Nakamura.
He is well-known for some lauded buildings,
including chapels and cemeteries,
where a sense of reflection and contemplation is paramount.
There is a curious translation here
of things that many people would consider to be ugly -
you know, passing cars, traffic, buses, trams -
into things of sublime beauty.
But it's also a real shrine to beauty and silence.
There's also an atmosphere within here
that is very rich and interesting,
in that a lot of the textures and tones are quite dark.
This profound serenity would be remarkable anywhere,
but to find it amidst the frantic bustle of 21st-century city life,
just beyond the front door, makes this an extraordinary home.
Oh, gosh. It's chilly and dark.
Our final destination is on Etajima,
one of Japan's 7,000 islands,
with its stunning coastline of coves and secluded marinas that surround
the inland sea.
This is so pretty.
It's always important to maintain standards and travel in style.
I love it when they pick us up by boat.
-Especially a speedboat.
Hang on. That's a hot tub.
I think you brought the wrong boat!
Hello, are you for Piers and Caroline?
-Piers and Caroline? Gosh, this is...
-It's not at all what...
-Not quite what we were expecting.
No. I'm quite... Thank you.
-# Rock the boat
-Don't rock the boat, baby... #
I hope no-one sees us on this.
OK, it's not what we're used to, but fortunately
our destination is moments away.
Proud boat- and home-owner Mr Haragami is there to meet us.
Konnichiwa, Mr Haragami.
If the floating paddling pool is anything to go by...
Oh, I've got all wobbly.
I've lost my sea legs!
..this place is going to be more than a little eccentric.
Glasshouse For A Diver is a diamond in the rough.
Concrete cubes surround a sophisticated home,
made almost entirely of glass.
On this exquisite stretch of coast,
it makes the most of the wonderful ocean views.
Mr Haragami has let us discover the place for ourselves.
The first thing I notice is a load of old blocks.
I said "blocks".
They look like they've just left on a building site, don't they?
But they also have the quality of an ancient, prehistoric landscape.
This is like Stonehenge or something.
This is quite ugly. It's just like a pile of old concrete, really,
on the outside.
I think architecture suffers from being the arts that everybody
expects to always be good-looking.
It's like saying all plays should be happy,
rather than vehicles to explore feelings.
And this is a story about a coastal landscape.
It's telling us a story that doesn't need to be good-looking in
a straightforward way. I think, actually, in its ugliness,
this is a beautiful building.
Perhaps not attractive in themselves,
these blocks hide an inner beauty.
Look, I've found an entirely different perspective on this house.
I mean, this is tough weeds growing up against it.
Is a Fifth Avenue, New York apartment.
Also, it is a New York apartment
with the most spectacular view of the sea.
Besides having a great outlook,
what makes this house really special is the contrast between the two
extremes of the delicate light-filled glassy interior...
..and the rough and heavy industrial concrete that is used externally.
The owner wanted a view of the water from every room in the house.
Quite an architectural challenge.
Glasshouse For A Diver is a jigsaw of four glass rooms.
There's a kitchen-diner, a large living room,
a unique tearoom that doubles as a bedroom, and a detached bathroom.
The entire house is enclosed in the shell of seemingly random
concrete blocks that provide privacy and hold up the roof.
And there it is - a beautiful little glass box
inside a not-so-beautiful concrete box.
I think this is a thoroughfare.
You can imagine in summertime, this is really sociable.
Your friends and neighbours will be popping up and down.
You'd be there having whatever you'd have at sundown.
Gin and tonic. I like it because it's not big, but it is clever.
When you said this was a sociable house
and that that was a thoroughfare, I didn't know quite what that meant.
A loo with a view.
This house makes the most of the views of the ocean
and feels expansive, despite being relatively small.
It's just the size of a modest apartment.
There is a real archetype in coastal houses of the beach shack,
and they're really hard things to do, because, usually,
they're thrown together in an informal way, impromptu way,
and they're adapted over years.
And this really does feel like a 21st-century beach shack.
Quite a smart beach shack.
Polished marble floors, Italian designer furniture.
It does have an outside loo, I suppose.
But, for all its modernity and European influences,
it does have the simplicity of a fishing hut.
Although this is just a simple beach house,
it's very sophisticated and very Japanese.
All these spaces, although they're very simple glass boxes,
are separated from each other in the way that the Japanese traditional
house would be separated by the use of paper screens.
And I like the fact that it nods to its past and yet it's very much
a contemporary building.
In addition to providing fantastic views,
the glass allows you to appreciate
all of the constructional details which are displayed in an almost
decorative and elemental way.
This is a house where all of the spaces are separated,
but the construction is also pulled apart, defined,
and it is, in itself, a lesson in the elements of construction.
You can read what's in compression, you can read what's in tension,
you can read which bits span,
and you can also read what keeps the weather out.
That's really unusual in a little house like this.
The lightweight aluminium roof spans 12 metres from one concrete wall
to the other.
The long supporting steel beams mean there's no need to have supporting
columns internally, allowing clear expanses of glazing.
As we've discovered on our journey,
the Japanese use great skill mixing modernity with tradition.
Now, this is a bit of an unexpected treat in this very modern house
to find this - a tatami room.
So, here we've got the shoji screen, which is made of paper,
and the wonderful quality of the light through these screens
is completely beguiling,
but of course, in this house,
it's a bit unusual, because they open up to reveal lumps of concrete.
So again, it's the juxtaposition of the traditional Japanese,
the golden glow of the tatami,
against the grey austerity of the modern concrete.
The blocks do much more than hold up the roof.
They prevent this home from being one big goldfish bowl.
Inside, rooms are screened off from each other in different ways.
It's not all shoji screens.
So that's how you get some privacy.
And for one's more private moments,
the glass bathroom is opaque.
It's almost private.
There is nothing we don't know about each other.
There have been some brave choices here.
Owner Mr Haragami came here nearly 40 years ago, when he married.
He loved the place so much,
he built his company of commercial divers here and he's spent his life
working the sea ever since.
Is it true that you like Ernest Hemingway?
Mr Haragami is retired,
but building a new home here is a way to continue his love affair
with the sea.
What did you ask your architect for,
what sort of house did you say you wanted?
That's very trusting.
The architect who was given this free rein was Tetsuya Nakazono.
And so, what did Mr Haragami make of his ants' nest?
Wow, that's like the perfect client.
Mr Haragami's confidence and trust in his architect was important
and it meant that he was open to using different materials
in an unusual way.
Even using blocks of waste concrete from a nearby cement factory.
Once the fundamental principles of the project were resolved,
there was the challenge of getting all of the materials to site.
This home is an imaginative combination of materials
and building techniques.
But it's only been made possible by an even more extraordinary
combination of visionary architect and open-minded, ingenious client.
For a simple beach hut,
this is a very sophisticated piece of architecture.
I love the way the beautiful glass box is surrounded by
the shambolic blocks of concrete.
On top of which sits either a bit of shantytown,
or the most perfect lesson in construction that I've ever seen.
Japan has shown us that there's such a confidence in their architects,
who are trusted and empowered to deliver
really experimental buildings.
I didn't expect, I don't think,
to find such an unconventional group of houses in a place that we do
associate so much with ancient tradition.
It's a bit anarchic, really, and I didn't anticipate that.
I think what's really surprised me has been how human these houses have been.
I mean, they've been so warm, so witty, so welcoming.
-It's been good, hasn't it?
-It's been great.
Piers Taylor and Caroline Quentin travel to Japan, a country who combines innovation with traditional design. And with land at a premium here, small is definitely beautiful. House one is in Izura, on the coast, two hours east of Tokyo. The owner Hiroshi, a fisherman, lost everything in the earthquake of 2011. His new family home, high on a hillside, is nothing like a fisherman's hut. It is a beautiful V-shaped building entirely made of wood with a dramatic design that echos the trees around it. The house is held high in the air by three large pillars of splayed wooden struts that could flex to withstand an earthquake.
Next stop is Jikka House in Izukogen. Old friends Nobuko and Sachiko wanted to create a retirement home for themselves and a cafe for the local community. Nobuko's son, an architect, came up with five linked tepee-like structures, clad in hundreds of curved pieces of cedar. Set in woodland and full of quirky decor, Caroline describes Jikka as a 'fairy-tale' home.
In Japan nine out of ten people live in the city, so Piers and Caroline go to Hiroshima to see Optical Glass House. Built beside a busy main road, this unusual home is a peaceful sanctuary. Inside, Architect Hiroshi Nakamura designed a giant 13-tonne wall of optical glass and behind this 'crystal curtain' a beautiful internal garden with trees stretching up to the sky. Changing light and the shadows of silent passing vehicles add to the magic of this oasis. For Piers this house is 'a shrine to beauty and silence.'
The final property, 'Glass House for a Diver', is on the coast at Etajima. Owner Mr Haragami gave his architect free-reign to design a stunning coastal house. The result is an all-glass building inspired by the chambers of an ants' nest. But the real twist is the choice of rough concrete blocks that surround this delicate home - beauty hidden within a brutal exterior. It is a challenging, glamorous house with spectacular views of the sea from every angle.