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10 Audaciously Modern Japanese Houses

A new book from Phaidon chronicles the unconventional style of Japanese residential design.

There’s a surfeit of unorthodox, wildly creative Japanese houses out there, and 400 of them are packed into Jutaku: Japanese Houses, a new tome from Phaidon.

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Writer Naomi Pollock wondered, “why do houses in Japan look so wacky?” when she moved there 27 years ago and has spent the last two decades trying to figure that out. Part of the answer boils down to the circumstances, both cultural and economic. First is that there is virtually no second-hand market for homes. While a Classic 6 or mid-century Eichler is a hot commodity in the American market, Japanese people hunger for the new. Few people will buy a house that shows signs of wear, Pollock writes, and the lifespan of most houses is a mere 30 years. This opens up the field to projects that are hyper specific to the people who commission them.

Pollock also points out that land is priced at a premium and lots are often subdivided into awkward parcels since property taxes are so high. Inventiveness is all but essential in finding a way to build under those physical constraints. “Stepped profiles, stacked boxes, and curved walls can all get the job done,” she writes.

The 400 houses in the book span the entire country, and while there’s little in the way of descriptions for each project, there’s a handy graphic accompanying each one that details its relative size to the other homes, its footprint and livable area, and how many people inhabit the space.

Included amongst these odd structures is the work of famed architects like Sou Fujimoto, Ryue Nishizawa (of SANAA), and Terunobu Fujimori, as well as the Muji prefab house. Some are more understated in their weirdness, while others look plucked straight out of a sci-fi flick, but what the book provides is a remarkably comprehensive look at contemporary housing in Japan. And considering their ephemeral nature, it’s an important record.

“In a place that is constantly rebuilding, very little is permanent,” Pollock writes. “Sooner or later, most houses in Japan are bound to come down, no matter how weird or wonderful.”

Find Jutaku: Japanese Houses at phaidon.com for $25.

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About the author

Diana Budds is a New York–based writer covering design and the built environment.

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