In A Japanese Forest, A Treehouse For Birds And People

At the 78-room “bird apartment,” human visitors get a peek into the lives of the birds at a Nagano nature reserve.

Well, we can all go home. The Internet has won. We’ve found what must be the most heart-crushingly cute piece of architecture ever built: a 78-unit “bird apartment,” designed to shelter avian wildlife at a nature reserve in Nagano prefecture.


The Bird Apartment is the work of 35-year-old Japanese designer (and noted cute enthusiast) Oki Sato, the force behind prolific Tokyo studio Nendo. Sato and his team were commissioned to create the structure by Momofuku Ando Center, a conservancy nestled in the foothills of Komoro City. Momofuku, you may remember, is the same conservancy that commissioned Kengo Kuma to design this elegant visitor center in 2010.

From the ground, the Bird Apartment looks like a ghostly tree house, all gables and smooth white boards, perched in the forest canopy. One facade is punctured with a single human-sized entrance, which is accessed by a long stepladder. The opposite facade is made up of 78 miniature gabled houses, each just large enough to hold a bird’s nest.

Visitors are invited to clamber up the ladder and into the tree house’s single white room. There, they’ll find 78 peepholes–the sort installed in your apartment building–corresponding to the birdhouses on the other side of the wall. Through them, visitors will get a rare, up-close-and-personal glimpse of aviary wildlife, as Momofuku’s birds prepare for winter and, in the spring, hatch new chicks.

Wild birds tend not to nest near others of their species, which is why it was necessary to divide the spaces into individual houses, rather than build one big, collective shelter. Multilevel birdhouses are nothing new, but the observation element is a brilliant twist on the idea.

And Nendo, an office based in one of the densest cities in the world, surely knows a thing or two about high-density urbanism. “Our birdhouse is collective housing,” the designers confirm, “for many birds and one person.” The Bird Apartment would look right at home in a Metabolist housing proposal–in fact, save for the gables, it looks like a distant cousin to the Nakagin Capsule Tower, no?

About the author

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan is Co.Design's deputy editor.