‘The quiet accumulation of urban elements rooted in daily life’
May 6, 2018 12:56 PM   Subscribe

Dan Hill, whose blog City of Sound was last linked here more than decade ago, writes about his visit to two houses in Tokyo: Moriyama House, in Kamata, and House NA in Koenji. Both are remarkable in and of themselves: the former comprising several small blocks with green space woven between; the latter a stack of glass cubes. But they also prompt Hill to muse on, among other things, the peculiarities of living in Japan compared to standards in the west – from the nuances of ‘public’ and ‘private’ space to the ephemeral nature of the buildings themselves, when “the typical life expectancy of a Tokyo building is 26 years”.
posted by macdara (9 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
A Dan Hill, not the Dan Hill.

Interesting so far, though. Thanks for posting this!
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 2:04 PM on May 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

You had me at "several small blocks" and "stack of...cubes". And I love the look of this layout of Moriyama House, aside from it being helpful for understanding what's going on spatially too compared to the somewhat claustrophobic impression of the photographs.

But, yeah, I like how contextualized the look at these houses is; they're interesting to see in their own right but I appreciate how much time and space Hill takes to situate them within a cultural and neighborhood milieu, beyond just treating them as architectural curiosities in their own rights.

Nice first post!
posted by cortex at 2:11 PM on May 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

This is really interesting:

The incredible heterogeneity of housing is also a key feature of these typical Tokyo streets, with every single house different to the next. I see the same patterns in the much-older, more preserved Kyoto, too. It’s a wonderfully diverse patterning, and it’s immediately obvious how homogenous and limited the typical UK, Australian or American housing offer is, in contrast. Ironically, in societies where individual ‘market choice’ is apparently valued above all, and with a well-developed sense of individualism, our housing is not diverse at all; the north London I live in is essentially serried ranks of thousands of terraced or semi-detached houses, as if carpet-bombed from the sky by the late-Victorians. Here in Japan, a place that many in the West see as a highly conformist society, every single house is gloriously different.

In Tokyo Metabolizing (2010), Atelier Bow-Wow’s Yoshiharu Tsukamoto describes how this multi-layered street environment has come about, with a uniquely Japanese take on the imported US home ownership model, multiplied by rapid construction techniques, planning guidelines, generational cultural change, a climate that enables spatial diversity, and recently, the creation of what Tsukamoto calls “urban villages”. Whilst present, perhaps latent, for years, these become more clearly ascribed into the city, perhaps inadvertently, after the 1995 Development Plan for Disaster Prevention led to rings of deliberate fire-breaks enabled by fire-resistant 10-storey buildings lining major commercial thoroughfares. These in turn preserved and intensified the contained areas behind the urban firewall, defined by what Tskuamoto describes “a quiet expanse of densely-packed low-rise houses. These areas are teeming with greenery, and, due to the predominance of narrow, winding alleyways, there is no through traffic.” Tokyo has an undulating form within its sprawling megacity, with hundreds of these swells of lively density around train stations and lines of 10-storey buildings—somewhere between a less inflated kind of ‘transit-oriented development’ and a firebreak urbanism—quickly dropping down to these quiet, human-scale and green backstreets in-between.

posted by mandolin conspiracy at 2:16 PM on May 6, 2018 [5 favorites]

Dan Hill is a lovely person and trenchant urbanist (I'm a particularly big fan of the work he did with Helsinki Design Lab.)
He does a great job in this piece of showing the works in context, which highlights the ways that these works are not minimalist-- the way they are situated and inhabited is deeply complex and human. Design journalism is so heavily dependent upon meticulously prepared visuals these days that this kind of long-form, reasoned, human analysis is a wonderful counterpoint.
posted by q*ben at 2:52 PM on May 6, 2018

This was lovely. Thank you.
posted by wym at 4:31 PM on May 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

Tokyo-based architect Alastair Townsend had the seminal piece in 2013 unpacking why Japan's architecture was so heterogeneous for an English-language audience. Essentially, it is because only the land has value, so the owner has the freedom to build what they want to- which means sometimes unique/interesting/whimsical buildings.
posted by gen at 4:33 PM on May 6, 2018 [6 favorites]

> Nice first post!

Seconded! Makes me want to revisit Japan (land of my birth).
posted by languagehat at 5:43 PM on May 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

Very interesting. I spent many years simultaneously living in Seoul and Beijing. In that time both cities felt like home, so I overlooked the details he brings up. After reading his articles, I realized that while living there, I thought of Beijing as the more adventurous heterogeneous city with its grand projects like the CCTV pants building or the Olympic’s Bird’s nest. However, after reading these articles I find myself thinking that in the cramped urban housing of Seoul there was really a great variety of styles between every home and apartment complex on the streets, while in Beijing there were massive cookie cutter areas throughout the city where all the homes looked the same.

I wonder now how much it has to do with land ownership laws or geographic conditions. Both cities are at polar extremes in both categories.
posted by wobumingbai at 11:28 PM on May 6, 2018

Buried in gen’s post is this bit on Japan’s robotic prefab houses.
posted by zenon at 6:07 AM on May 7, 2018

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