Terunobu Fujimori (Photo by Edmund Sumner)

Work / Architecture

The List: Terunobu Fujimori whimsical houses seem to belong to the world of Studio Ghibli

Seeing as the new Soft-Hard Zinc House by Terunobu Fujimori has just opened near Tokyo, we decided that it would be a great idea to put together a list of our favourite Terunobu homes from the past few years. The teetering structures are packed with environmentally sensitive messages, and are the perfect breeding grounds for creative inspiration.

Most of his structures are intended as tea houses: social spaces traditionally used for tea ceremonies, and as a space for aesthetic and intellectual fulfillment. The structures look like they belong in fairy tales or on top of the spindly legs of Howl’s Moving Castle. Utilising materials like volcanic rock, earth, dandelions and charred wood, the designs are imaginative and playful, perfect spaces to dream and think and converse.

Soft-Hard Zinc House


Soft-hard looking zinc house (crop): (Photo copyright Maria Novozhilova)


Soft-hard looking zinc house (crop): (Photo copyright Maria Novozhilova)


Soft-hard looking zinc house (crop): (Photo copyright Maria Novozhilova)


Soft-hard looking zinc house (crop): (Photo copyright Maria Novozhilova)

Residence of this shiny, patchwork quilt of a home often refer to it as “The Chanel Handbag” because of its padded, aluminium exterior. Inside, the structure is minimal, with white plaster walls and simple wooden beams holding up the mezzanine. Fittingly, the tactile space functions as a textile museum and studio, and visitors are allowed to touch and even try on all of the artwork displayed. A clever and whimsical way to combine the exterior of a house with the intention for its interior. And very touching.

Irisentei Tea House (or Flying Mud Boat)


Flying Mud Boat (Photo copyright Kazumasa Onishi)

This little, nut-like structure, evocative of Thumbelina’s bed/ boat in the Hans Christian Anderson tale, combines whimsy with practicality: the suspended structure provides a theoretical solution for earthquakes and floods. Terunobu used his trademark technique of packing together charred cedar to seal wood against rain and rot, and even though the ecological aspect of his buildings is important, as a historian Terunobu’s inspiration comes primarily from man’s historic battle against the elements. Terunobu has taken the battle so far that he’s created a structure that seems able even to defy gravity.



Takasugi-an (Photo copyright Edward Sumner)

The name of this tea house, which could also be a tree house, literally means “a tea house too high.” Made from bamboo and plaster and the trunks of two chestnut trees, inside there is only enough space for two, and to get up you must climb a tall ladder found at the top of a mountain in Chino, Nagano Prefecture, Japan. The idea is to use paradox to guide the visitor: after an exhilarating climb through a spacious landscape, you find yourself in a cozy and deeply serene setting.

Trojan Pig (or Walking Cafe)


Trojan pig in the Garden Museum Villa Stuck, 2012: DETAIL

The mobile tea house in the Museum Villa Stuck in Munich combines the Japanese tea room tradition with a surprising and unlikely European twist. Despite taking inspiration from Bruegel’s The Land of Cockaigne (1567), a depiction of a mythical land of gluttony, Terunobu’s creation is made from modest shingling, copper and other materials sourced by local children and craftsmen. The house embodies a dichotomy: a structure that is intended to encourage moderation and reflection is built in the colours of a painting that symbolises sloth and excess. An intriguing blend of inspirations and historic traditions which you can contemplate when you’re sitting in the house built primarily for contemplation.

Dandelion House


Sprouting with dandelions and built from volcanic rock, this fantastical building is Terunobu’s own home. The eccentric, enchanting and ecologically friendly space is exactly the kind of place you’d imagine the creator of such incredible structures to live. Inside of the organic and overgrown walls are the rooms and corridors where Terunobu toils over his work, and it’s inspiring to see the place where all of his great ideas are grown.