This retreat house sits on a site of coastal town of Kamakura, Japan. Designed by London-based architecture company Foster and Partners, this contemporary house is built for a prominent collector of Buddhist art.

The house is located in a town with rich historical associations. These include a Shinto shrine and caves, in sculpt by hand into the cliff-face, which formed part of an eleventh-century workshop for crafting samurai swords. The house is one of three buildings on the site alongside a pavilion, with a gallery for displaying art works, a large function space, and specialized storage. The overall composition ties these buildings together in a harmonious arrangement, informed by the Japanese belief that nature is at its most beautiful when considered in relation to the man-made.

A series of parallel structural walls organise the interior spaces of all three buildings, which are further articulated by perpendicular infill walls that carry the service functions. Special attention has been paid to the subtle use of colour throughout the interiors, with muted tones and dark gray ceilings that add a degree of intimacy. The design team developed a number of specialized materials for the project. The primary walls are clad with a custom-manufactured reconstructed stone, while glass blocks made from recycled television tubes provide diffuse light. Hand-sculpted terrazzo elements are used throughout. The floor surfaces are covered in part with antique Chinese tiles, and the indoor pool is finished in glazed volcanic stone tiles.

The house is planned around the rugged landscape and focuses on a mature cherry tree. Circulation through the building is organised around a sequence of views that progressively move from darkened to fully lit rooms, revealing the houses natural surroundings and the clients extensive antique and modern art collection. A comprehensive integrated lighting system, which includes fiber-optic installations, dedicated spotlights, and naturally back-lit glass blocks, further emphasizes major individual art works. The attention to the play of light and shadow, created through a combination of materials and artificial and natural light, is fundamental to the design of the house and evokes the quietude of traditional Japanese architecture.

Kamakura House