In 1984 a client of Japanese architect Shizuo Kurisaka said, "Since childhood, I've always wanted to live in a unique house." Did she say unique? Kurisaka gave her unique. Dubbed the Falling White Box, Kurisaka's $150,000 creation rises at a 45-degree angle from a small rice field in a residential suburb of the city of Shizuoka. He calls it "a post-earthquake house." While its three interior floors are conventionally horizontal, its oblique exterior has given a bizarre new slant to Japanese architecture.

Kurisaka, 40, leans toward the whimsical. One of his celebrated whimsies is the "Completed House Under Construction," featuring permanent scaffolding on the outside and painted silhouettes of workmen on the front wall. "People who want ordinary houses," concedes Kurisaka, with some understatement, "don't come to me."

Still, his Falling White Box has a serious bias. It is designed to remind Shizuoka's 465,000 residents that the city, 90 miles southwest of Tokyo, is a likely target for Japan's next major earthquake. "The authorities say prepare and be careful," says Kurisaka, who lives in Shizuoka with his wife, Mieko, 32, daughter Tomoko, 6, and son Tatsuji, 2. "But the earthquake doesn't come, so people forget."

Some of the neighbors would prefer to forget the Falling White Box. "It does stand out," comments the owner of a nearby beauty shop in the otherwise traditional community. "Everyone who comes by is shocked." Yet Kurisaka's faith in his work is unshakable. "It may seem strange now," he admits, "but when the earthquake comes and all the other houses fall down, it will seem quite normal."