Filling Tokyo Space with Tiny Houses

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When he wrote earlier this year about the “two faces” of Tokyo, our contributor Siqi Zhu noted that, in Japan’s capital, “weak eminent domain laws have resulted in years of piecemeal development and an incredibly fine-grained urban fabric.” This is unlike many other cities in the developed world where government agencies eagerly expropriate land for vast new building projects. In the 1950s, 60s and 70s, vast swaths of urban landscape were razed in Canada and the United States to make way for utopian housing complexes, stadiums and office blocks. The same thing is happening throughout China today.

In Japan, though, urban neighbourhoods remain eclectic patchworks of individually-developed houses and apartment buildings. Even in the middle of Tokyo, the world’s largest city, the backstreets of many retail and residential districts retain a cluttered, hodgepodge quality. Naturally, this jumbled pattern of development has left some odd-shaped spaces between buildings—spaces that are attracting attention from people who want an affordable home in the heart of the city. Enter the kyo-sho-jutaku, or microhome: houses built on parcels of land that, in some cases, are as small as 250 square feet, about the size of a single room in many North American dwellings.

According to BusinessWeek, the increasing popularity of micro-homes “is being driven by the surprising fact that, despite Japan’s already astronomical (by international standards) land prices, the four prefectures that comprise the Tokyo metropolitan area are among the fastest-growing nationally.

Suitable land for housing in Tokyo is incredibly scarce, however. So some families are hiring architects to build the tiniest homes imaginable to live closer to the cultural amenities and excellent school systems available in Tokyo. “Recently, an increasing number of people, especially in their 30s and early 40s, desire to live in central Tokyo,” says Shigeru Kimura, an independent real estate agent who specializes in micro-homes. “And more people are thinking of how to live on a small plot of land.”

Others are already based in Tokyo, clinging to a tiny patch of land, and want to replace decades-old wooden homes with new ones, but for the lowest cost possible.

Architects have opted for strikingly simple, modern designs, making the most of tiny lots and doing as much as possible to keep building costs down. New companies have arisen to offer custom house designs for tiny or oddly-shaped parcels of land, offering the final product for between US$171,000 to $214,000. This should serve as an inspiration to North American cities: although land prices are not nearly as high, there is an increasingly strong demand for innovative forms of infill housing. Last month I wrote about laneway houses in Toronto, which are remarkably similar in concept to the Japanese micro-houses. If there weren’t so many regulatory barriers to building these kinds of dwellings, our neighbourhoods would have a lot more variety in housing choice.

Top photos fromBusinessWeek.Click here to see a slideshow.

This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Friday March 23 2007at 12:03 am , filed under Architecture, Asia Pacific and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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