A Ukrainian Architect Re-Examines His Culture Through A Japanese Lens

Going green doesn’t always mean growing anew from the ground up. Sometimes it’s just a matter of tweaking our behavior. Taking a reusable shopping bag to the market. Turning off the tap while we brush our teeth. For Ukrainian architect Sergey Makhno, this meant working with what he had – and making it better.

Eager to find a quiet home for himself and his family, Makhno settled on the village of Kozyn, just outside Kyiv. The lot he discovered offered room for a good-sized garden, but it came with a half-finished, nothing special, boxy brick house. Nonetheless, impelled by memories of summers spent at his grandmother’s village and his determination that his own children enjoy the tranquility and fresh air of this semi-rural setting, he bought the property and went to work.

Makhno had spent time in Japan, an experience that had an impact on his approach to design and gave him a new appreciation for his own country. “Thanks to Japan, I learned to love Ukraine. When I first visited Japan and saw how the people value their heritage, I realized that Ukrainian culture is also extremely rich, but we do not always know how to appreciate it. Japan returned Ukraine to me.”

Committed to celebrating and interpreting the design traditions of Ukraine, Makhno created his home under the influence of wabi-sabi, the Buddhist-born sensibility that accepts imperfection and impermanence as central to existence. “Wabi-sabi is an alternative to the modern, crazy rhythm of life and the values of consumption and the pursuit of the ideal,” suggests Makhno. “To see the beauty of the imperfect, to appreciate the simplicity and joy of the moment, to feel in touch with nature and to accept the fleetingness of life, to reject the unnecessary and to focus on the most important things are the basic principles of this timeless concept.”

Christened “Shkrub House” (from a made-up term of endearment he and his wife share), the Makhno residence sits behind a minimalist concrete wall, its entry court treated as a Japanese garden, with conifer and deciduous trees artfully arrayed atop a mound of moss set in an expanse of gravel. The façade – clad in narrow bands of wood – and a mansard-like roof made of reeds, form a geometry whose severity is softened by these natural materials.

The home’s essential earthiness is most evident in the two-story living room. Lit by a massive window rising from the floor to the timbered ceiling, the space features a towering wall of shelves built from salvaged wood and housing a dizzying panoply of ceramics; a sinuous fireplace rises up another wall like a living thing. “To get a texture with rhythmical dents, the walls were covered with clay and knocked with a wooden spoon until it got dry, and – according to ancient Ukrainian traditions – the clay was mixed with flax seeds, rye and wheat,” explains Makhno.

While executed in such elemental materials as clay, flax and wood, the house is not without 21st- century amenities, including solar panels, a geothermal system and smart home functionality. “We have motion sensors and electricity is used only when needed,” notes Makhno. “When we’re in the garden, there isn’t a light on in the house.”

Evoking vernacular traditions but not mired in the past; contemporary but not cold; of the land but clearly built; Makhno’s nature-embracing home is the quintessence of shelter and style.

Photography by Serhii Kedulin.

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