Modern society is not short of complex social, economic and environmental problems to overcome. Curator and designer Kenya Hara believes “housing is one of the best mediums for exploring the most pressing challenges we face”.
That’s why he came up with House Vision, an exhibition in Tokyo this month that brings together some of the nation’s leading companies (Muji, Panasonic and Toto among them) and partners them with some of the country’s best-known young and established architects. Their brief? To seek solutions to issues the Japanese and others faced around the world, including economic stagnation, ageing and decreasing populations, rapid urbanisation and natural disasters.
Displayed in an empty lot in Tokyo’s Odaiba leisure and entertainment district, the second edition of House Vision presents an alluring landscape of 12 homes or installations under the theme of “CO-DIVIDUAL – Split and Connect/Separate and Come Together”.
“I wanted to look at how industries involved in housing such as energy, transport and communication can help us better prepare for the future,” says Hara. “And how housing can create new connections between individuals.”
Not surprisingly, many of the projects focus on maximising shared space. A large cascading rental tower by Daito Trust Construction and Sou Fujimoto transforms what are usually dull, unused corridors into outdoor gardens and terraces, and incorporates spacious dining and kitchen areas, shared bathrooms with large luxurious bathtubs (instead of tiny individual en-suites) and communal study and library rooms.
Another house showcases the deceptively simple idea of refrigerators and other cabinets that can be opened both from the inside and outside to allow for the safe delivery of food and essentials such as medicines and laundry when the residents are out or unable to go to the door. Devised by product designer Fumie Shibata and logistics and delivery service company Yamato Holdings, it provides an essential solution for “a population that increasingly moves around a lot as well as for seniors and people living alone”, says Hara.
Elsewhere, master of minimalism and pioneer of cardboard structures, Shigeru Ban teamed up with manufacturer of building materials Lixil to display several technologies under one roof. A highlight is an additional bedroom that can be pulled out of the main structure when needed. Another is something called the Life Core, which condenses water plumbing, waste-water facilities (stored overhead instead of under the floor, allowing for greater layout flexibility) and lighting in one unit that can be moved around.
In a further innovation the house features a lightweight but robust structure made of PHP panels (paper honeycomb sandwiched between plywood) that are easy to transport and fast to assemble and so ideal for construction in disaster areas. Large glass windows that can be stored horizontally or rotated 90 degrees and slid by the side of the house create a seamless transition between indoor and outdoor space.
The project that deals most engagingly with the pressing Japanese problem of a fast-ageing population (and young people leaving rural areas) is a collaboration between Airbnb, the only western company invited by Hara to take part in the exhibition, and talented Japanese residential architect Go Hasegawa.
Yoshino-Sugi Cedar House is a long gable-roofed home with a welcoming engawa, a Japanese covered porch-style space that represents a transitional space between public and private and an important social area. Made of 28 types of cedar from in and around Yoshino (a 9,000-strong village in Nara prefecture) the house is both tactile and inviting. It is also a new departure for Japanese contemporary society, says Hasegawa.
Despite centuries-long traditions of social or public spaces in homes, post world war two Japanese homes have lost their social function, with people thinking only about “privacy, security and themselves”, the architect says.
After the exhibition the house, constructed by local craftsmen and carpenters, will be dismantled and returned to Yoshino, a village where 750 of 3,000 homes stand empty and where thousands of people have left in recent years despite charmed landscapes of mountains, forests and rivers, cherry blossoms and a productive local economy thanks to its cedar forests and local factories making chopsticks, sake and washi paper.
The house will be installed along the river and will become both a community centre (downstairs) and a guesthouse (upstairs) to be managed by the community. Importantly, all proceeds will go to the community.
“We flipped the whole Airbnb model upside down,” says Joe Gebbia, co-founder and CPO of Airbnb, who says the project is about “bringing an economic stimulus and lift to the village and something for them to be excited about too”.
The project will be monitored for a year and it may be a drop in the ocean but, he says, “If it works there are a lot of other places in Japan that could benefit from a similar model. “Places like China, Korea and many European countries too.”
House Vision is on in Tokyo until August 28. http://house-vision.jp