When space is at a premium in any given city, high housing density is a top priority. That means more plentiful and affordable housing for everyone, but this usually comes at the cost of grassy yards for residents to enjoy. Gaze out onto the city of Takamatsu, Japan from an overlook point along the mountainside, and you’ll see almost no private outdoor space among the closely-set houses and apartment buildings, let alone rolling green hills covered in lawn chairs and native plants.

greendo apartment green terraces

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That is, until “Greendo” (Miyawaki Gurindo) came along. Architect Keita Nagata of Keita Nagata Architectural Element came up with a novel design for urban housing that produces spacious apartments topped with an undulating ribbon of rooftop gardens, all on a challenging sloped plot. Built into the foot of Mineyama mountain in the Kagawa prefecture, the complex takes advantage of the natural insulation and geothermal temperature control of the soil.

The complex is fully passive, “living and breathing” with the land. Each of the five housing units is buried into the slope to maintain a stable indoor temperature of around 59 degrees Fahrenheit, with ventilation pipes bringing in fresh air. Buried tubes bring up cool air from the mountain in the summer and warm air in the winter.

apartment in slope

Steel-reinforced concrete makes up the outer walls for earthquake stabilization, and layers of anti-humidity insulation prevent moisture problems. An additional insulating layer of air between in the inner walls, as well as in the ceilings and floors, prevents heat movement by convection in a manner similar to the way a Thermos bottle works.

Not only does this design create a stepped series of grassy surfaces for the residents to enjoy, it avoids disturbing the slope to an extent that could cause erosion or mudslides. Visually, the result is like a Japanese version of hobbit houses, with rounded rooflines and doors. The rooftop itself features grass-covered awnings projecting out over glassed-in volumes to bring light into the subterranean spaces, as well as gentle slopes for walking from one level to the next.

apartment view city

You might imagine that the luxury of such private green space in a city where vegetation is fairly scarce would come at a high premium. The apartments themselves are pretty comfortable, after all, with generous glazing, lots of built-in furniture, warm wood floors and private patios. However, rent ranges from just $530 to $1,000 per month, making it a highly affordable option for anyone who manages to snag a unit while it’s open.

greendo apartment interior

greendo apartment interior

73 percent of Japan is covered in uninhabitable mountains, which is part of the reason cities like Tokyo are so packed while other regions are sparsely populated. Greendo is a smart way to get around this problem, working with the land instead of against it while boosting quality of life in the process. It’s innovative, earth-friendly, low-cost, low-risk and looks really cool, too. Who wouldn’t want to live in an urban hobbit house, enjoying the nature-oriented aspects of rural and suburban living with access to everything the city has to offer?