The CNN interview I gave last week has aired as a part of a piece on Japanese residential architecture (I show up around 1:00 in). The crew got in touch after reading the ArchDaily article and they contacted the owners of some of the homes pictured to arrange access and interviews.
Sou Fujimoto was also interviewed in his House NA, so I tagged along to see it for the first time firsthand. Although I was familiar with the design concept, I came away with a deeper appreciation after talking to the client (who didn’t wish to be interviewed on camera). Of course, seeing how a home is actually lived in – as opposed to staged photographs soon after completion – is always an eye opener (curtains, space heaters, the inevitable clutter of daily life). I thought the CNN cameraman caught the house’s lived-in charm rather well.
Thanks Paula, Nicki, and the rest of the CNN crew.
I was contacted by a number of news outlets after I published my recent article explaining Japan’s crazy housing economics and how I think they facilitate experimental residential architecture. Since many people seem keen to see or photograph these in-person (or via streetview), I have assembled a map that catalogs some interesting examples of Tokyo residential architecture. Google’s new maps engine sure looks snazzy, doesn’t it?
Currently, the map is centred around West Tokyo, where most of the famous examples are clustered. By no means exhaustive or authoritative, I plan to gradually update it (time permitting). I welcome any additions to the map that readers care to suggest. Just tweet them to me: @AlaTown
The following article about Japanese housing economics and how they motivate Japan’s penchant for experimental architecture first appeared on ArchDaily, where it quickly became one of their most popular articles. Unfortunately, copyright restrictions prevent me from including here the photography that accompanied the original article.
In architectural magazines and websites, like ArchDaily, we see a steady stream of radical Japanesehouses. These homes, mostly designed by young architects, often elicit readers’ bewilderment. It can seem that in Japan, anything is permissible: stairs and balconies without handrails, rooms flagrantly cast open to their surroundings, or homes with no windows at all.
These whimsical, ironic, or otherwise extreme living propositions arrest readers’ attention, baiting us to ask: WTF Japan? The photos travel the blogosphere and social networks under their own momentum, garnering global exposure and international validation for Japan’s outwardly shy, yet media-savvy architects. Afterall, in Japan – the country with the most registered architects per capita – standing out from the crowd is the key to getting ahead for young designers. But what motivates their clients, who opt for such eccentric expressions of lifestyle? Continue reading →
When buying property in Japan, navigating the Japanese Building Standards Law can be complex, even for natives. For foreigners, the added complication of Japan’s unique restrictions and terminology – like kenperitsu and yousekiritsu – can make it all the more difficult. When searching through property listings, you will a set of numbers listed on the advertisement. These are development restrictions prescribed by which of the twelve land use zones and other districts the property lies within. Since it can all be a bit confusing, here’s a brief introduction to some basic restrictions you will need to be aware of when investing in Japanese property… Continue reading →
I recently contributed an article to Clog magazine’s Brutalism issue, about Japan’s long love affair with concrete. The debate surrounding Brutalism hinged upon whether the 20th-century movement was an architectural ethic or merely an aesthetic. Japan’s obsession with concrete (or what I call ‘concreteness’) might be loosely termed ‘brutalist’, but the country has shown how the material, despite architects’ ethical intentions, lends itself all too well to the aesthetics of consumerism.
Last year I had the honor of editing a digital collection of 100 Japanese architectural works which I selected from the previous 21 editions of the JA (Japan Architect) Yearbook. Read on for a short extract from my introductory essay. Continue reading →
It’s been some time since I posted about the differences between Japanese and Western housing and how they could constructively borrow these traits from one another. To revie the series (and this blog), I’ve written a short appreciation of an easily overlooked, yet ever present, feature of Japanese townscapes…
In his 1933 essay In Praise of Shadows Jun’ichirō Tanizaki extolled the virtue of shade and advocated for its appreciation in design and the arts. When visiting traditional homes or shrines in Japan, the provision of shade becomes quite evident. In addition to roofs with long overhanging eaves, the Japanese have long used blinds – called sudare – to create shade and privacy indoors, particularly in the hot summer months.
This week the Japan Times ran an article comparing the house we are building in Onjuku, Chiba to he process of building the typical Japanese corporate homebuilder’s home.
I had a bit of correspondance with the article’s author, Philip Brasor, making the case why I think that hiring an architect to design your home is competitive in terms of cost. As a follow-up to the article, I’m publishing some of that correspondance below: Continue reading →
Industrially precut timber framing has become the predominant house construction method throughout Japan. In this first short documentary, produced by BAKOKO, we explain the process from factory floor to building site. Like so much of its traditional culture, Japan has developed a highly efficient technological adaptation of an age-old building technique.
Recently, a discussion on Linkedin came to my attention between foreign business people concerning bids to provide temporary housing for Tohoku. All shared similar frustrations that the process was far from transparent and it seemed clear to them that the Government of Japan never intended to source from any foreign bidders.
The demands seem to have been onerous: short deadlines, Japan-specific design requirements (tatami mats, electronic baths, etc), locally licensed construction partners, and very short construction turnarounds could all be interpreted as measures designed to protect the Japan Prefabricated Construction Suppliers and Manufactures Association from outsiders.
At BAKOKO, we’ve been planning a response to the housing crisis left in the wake of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that destroyed many towns in Tohoku. The challenge to formulating a design for rehousing the homeless is the uncertainty that pervades the rebuilding effort. As the government unsuccessfully struggles to meet its targets for temporary housing and clears mountains of refuse, it may be years before we see much progress on the ground in terms of rebuilding permanent communities. Continue reading →
Over 25,000 OM Solar homes have been built in Japan within the last 20-30 years. This figure would appear to put the system’s popularity on par with Europe’s Passive House (Passivhaus) standard. Yet, the OM Solar method is unique and seems almost unknown outside of Japan.
Japan’s ambitious ‘Model Eco-House’ project has already completed twenty unique sustainable homes throughout the country in an aim to set a new national standard for environmental design. Continue reading →
Recently, there have been a crop of modern Japanese homes without windows that look outside the home. Open to the sky, they are daylit by skylights and open courtyards. These internal spaces offer brighter living conditions than typical homebuilder homes with their familiar pitched tiled roofs and small windows veiled by net curtains. However, the lack of any view to the outside world is puzzling and, some might argue, unsociable. Continue reading →
My last article mentioned a popular Japanese television series called “Before After”. In the cultural wasteland of Japanese television, dominated by cult-celebrity panel variety shows, it stands out as one of the few gems worth watching. Despite being a show ostensibly dedicated to home improvement, it might also be one Japanese TV’s most emotional…
Most Japanese families are resigned to living in the homes that the marketplace offers. If they are unhappy living in them, they rarely seem to do much about it. Quality of life in Japanese homes could be remarkably improved if their owners took matters into their own hands… Continue reading →
Muji generously invited us to don white gloves and tour their newly completed development in Chiba prefecture. Having previously written about the project, it was good to see it firsthand. Sadly, wet weather did not offer the best photo op.
Working for the developer Orix, Muji has built 22 homes of various layouts. Surprisingly, the project does not include Muji’s previous home designs. Here, these typical Japanese suburban homes are given the Muji touch by stripping them of extraneous elements and making everything (as Muji likes to say) “simple”. The development is made cohesive by a standard white exterior finish, square glazing, and inset balconies. Inside, the homes offer a similarly white, but otherwise unremarkable interiors.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Muji’s attempt to resolve their customers’ desire for green space whilst maximizing their development’s density (and profitability). Today, I am covering an alternative solution to Japan’s lack of green space.