A few hours outside Tokyo nestled in the mountains near the resort town of Nagano quietly rests the Cockpit Cabin, an unassuming weekend home that wholeheartedly embraces the the Japanese concept of shinrin-yoku—or forest bathing.
Designed by Hiroshi Nakamura & NAP architects, the modest, camouflage structure sits recessed into its sloping site, bringing the client eye-level to the forest floor.
In the interest of minimizing site disruption to protect the surrounding plant life and natural water veins, the client and studio decided on a two-level design that effectively acts as two large steps up the hill. Built partially into the ground, the house is naturally insulated and kept cool by the Earth.
The split-level design, with bedrooms above and living quarters below, encourages gravity to do much of the heating and cooling work. In the warmer months, large sliding glass doors off the kitchen can be opened to allow breezes to flow up the stairs to cool the lofted master bedroom above.
The region experiences intense winters, so heating was carefully considered too-a wood stove in the lowest zone of the house heats the space during the day. And at night, after the fire is extinguished, shoji doors on the upper level are opened to allow warm air to naturally drift upwards and into the bedrooms above. The whole system encourages a sort of partnership between the homeowner and the seasons, or at the very least, manual temperature control.
Such carefully considered design gestures and interactions continue throughout the space. Beside the bedrooms upstairs sits a small bench positioned below a window-an optimal reading spot for the nature-loving client.
At the absolute height of the structure exists the namesake “cockpit” study—a glass-sided room that extends above the roof. From some outside perspectives, it's the only indication there’s a house below at all. With windows on all four sides, the study looks out onto the living roof and out into the surrounding forest of dogwood, oak, and chestnut trees. Covered with native plants, the sloped living roof helps with drainage, waterproofing, and insulation.
The exterior masonry and wood paneling are made of locally sourced materials. Chestnut and oak trees leftover from clearing the site were dried to use as porch pillars and doorknobs. Inside, Asama stone, teak wood, and pine beams make for a warm, inviting atmosphere intended to reflect the forest outside.
Functional and serene, the Cockpit Cabin looks to be the perfect place to sit back and watch the seasons change.