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Only in Japan: Man Builds House to Die For (and Die In)

“I will die in 15 years. It will be a house awaiting that death. … Something small would be good.”

A couple days ago, we ran a story about rethinking architecture to suit the elderly. But it seems we missed an important point: Sometimes old people just want a nice place to die, dammit.

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That’s the thinking of one Japanese man, anyway, a resolute loner who has given himself 15 years, tops, to live, and wants a house that’ll last as long. “It will be a house awaiting that death,” the man says according to press materials (his exact age isn’t known). “…Something small would be good.”

So armed with the world’s most depressing commission, he turned to the architects Eastern Design Office.

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Japan, it should be noted, has the fastest aging population in the world. As a result, how to die properly has become something of a national preoccupation.

But even this was an unusual request. Kyoto-based Eastern Design Office are known for sexy, modern, light-filled homes that seem custom-made for the pages of Wallpaper. Here, they produced a house that, from the outside, looks more like a mausoleum. Rising from the Ise Penninsula on Japan’s east coast, it’s a sort of warped box propped up on a concrete base. Naturally, it’s painted black.

The inside, though, is something else entirely. “I hate the sunset,” the man reportedly told the architects. (Other things he hates: kittens, babies, lollipops.) So they oriented the house to face east over the sea. Then they carved out a row of polygonal windows to evoke the wings of a butterfly — a creature that, in the East, symbolizes the ever after.

The light and shadows the glazing casts are stunning. During the day, they’ve got a kaleidoscopic feel. At night, they look like woodcut prints.

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The house is small and the floorplan relatively simple, so the old man can watch the sunrise — which he actually enjoys — while reclining in a rocker, cooking, sitting down to eat, and otherwise doing things curmudgeons like to do when the clock’s ticking.

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In a weird way, the house designed for death ended up being a wonderful monument to life. The old guy must hate it.

[Via Yatzer; images by Koichi Torimura courtesy of Eastern Design Office]

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About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D

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