Azuma-tei (aka Tower House)

Easily one of Tokyo’s most beloved buildings, it is easy to walk past it at first. This architect’s residence near Gaiemmae station is very small: It is built on a leftover plot of just 20.5 square meters. The actual building surface is even smaller. The house’s six (!) levels provide just 65 square meters of living space, including a rooftop terrace and a carport. Most surprising, however, is the house’s vintage: It was built in 1966/1967.


Setting the scene, this Tate exhibition site takes us back to the Tokyo of those days:

Tokyo in the late 1960s was a city on the brink of crisis. Rapid growth since the late 1950s had resulted in housing shortages, environmental pollution and traffic problems. Old buildings, including some major landmarks, were torn down, and the city’s first skyscrapers began to appear.

Moreover, land prices were rising sharply as the population in and around Tokyo grew fast. Many young people were forced out of the centre to the sprawling outskirts. In this environment, young architect Takamitsu Azuma decided to buck the trend and stick it out in the middle of the city. His house is a beautiful monument of his determination to realise one’s ambition even if space is very (very) limited.

Along with the Nagakin Capsule Tower, the Tower House is among the most iconic and groundbreaking residential buildings of post-war Japan. Both deal with limited space and rapid urbanisation in their very own way. The Metabolist Capsule Tower recognises the growing atomisation of society and provides standardised living space for young single salarymen. Azuma’s Tower House somehow offers a warmer vision of society: The possibility of reconciling the vast and growing city with private and intimate family space.


The exposed concrete gives the house a very modern look. A recent renovation has kept all features (indoors and outdoors) in their original state. Although the house was designed to house the architect’s three-person family, today only the architect’s daughter lives here.

tower03 tower04

The SAAB just fits into the carport.


There are plenty of better photographs around, e.g. here or here (there are also pictures of the interior –  visitors can enter the building once in a while). This shot was taken back when the building had just been complete. The lack of other, tall buildings is striking.

2 thoughts on “Azuma-tei (aka Tower House)

  1. I first saw this building photographed in a coffee table book, “Japanese Style” by Slesin, Cliff and Ronezsztroch page 220.

    I enjoyed checking out the exterior while living in Japan. It’s smaller than it looks!

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