Cube House, Circle House, Symmetric House, Quiet House, Little House (on these pages). These are just some of the houses made by the Japanese architect Naoyuki Shirakawa, the master of micro-dwellings: spaces designed in a handful of square meters, spectacular gestures that give rise to unique, elegant, functional works of architecture capable of rejecting any sort of exhibitionism, but not poetry.

A stubborn career, that of Shirakawa, lasting almost 30 years (his first studio opened in Tokyo in 1987), always focused on quality, the refinement of a few perfect details, the desire to experiment.

While Shirakawa ‘thinks small’ in terms of projects, he has a big store of prizes and honors for his work: from his mini-houses to wider-ranging projects, like the ‘Sun Aqua Toto Factory,’ the plant of Japan’s leading producer of bath fixtures, Shirakawa always manages to astonish and to gain international attention. How? By focusing on “the memory of the past and the hope for the future,” as he puts it.

From this viewpoint, the Little House of Kobe is a fine example. The architect explains: “In 1995 the city of Kobe, known since ancient times for its beautiful houses, was struck by a violent earthquake: the houses, almost all in wood with terracotta tiles as in the Japanese tradition, were destroyed, together with their flourishing gardens.

So when I began to work on this project – for a young couple with two children – I thought I should leave some sign of that dramatic disaster, while at the same time creating a sense of hope. Therefore I put the roofing tiles the earthquake had dislodged from the roofs of houses into the garden, and I put the earth from the gardens on the roof. In short, I simply inverted the roles.”

Why? “To remember the shock of that devastating earthquake, but to start life over again, with new plants that will miraculously grow on the roof,” Shirakawa concludes.

Photos by Koji Kobayashi – Text by Laura Ragazzola