Helena Rong and Jessica Jiang: Chasing Japan-ness: Japan's Disposable Housing Typology

rendering of red buildings and streets on the left and blue buildings and streets on the right

image / Helena Rong and Jessica Jiang

"Japan-ness," a term coined by Arata Isozaki, in the context of architectural identity is inseparable from the cognizance of impermanence. Rapid economic growth, recovery from war, natural disaster, and massive urbanization have required architects to grapple with frequent cycles of destruction, reconstruction, and transformation. The ubiquity of differing urban elements has contributed to the famously complex urban fabric of Japanese cities. Japan-ness demands negotiations between the opportunistic and systematized, spectacle and mundane, traditional and modern. The large-scale rebuilding of postwar Tokyo marked an imperative cultural moment for architects to reconsider the single-family house; the individual house has provided a unique platform for architectural experimentation not among the high-culture elites, but rather the everyday middle-class. Unlike the U.S., where houses typically accrue value over their lifespan, 50 percent of houses in Japan are demolished within 40 years of their construction. Houses in Japan, like cars in the U.S., depreciate. This has produced a condition where houses are understood as disposable commodities rather than investments, allowing them to become a medium for criticism and manifestations of innovative and sometimes bizarre concepts of living. This exhibition is a visual collection of experiences, questions, and speculation surrounding Tokyo's suburban, domestic architectural evolution.

Helena Rong (B.Arch. '17) is currently pursuing a master of science in architecture studies in architecture and urbanism at MIT, and Jessica Jiang (B.Arch. '17) is currently an architectural designer at Kohn Pedersen Fox in New York City. Chasing Japan-ness: Japan's Disposable Housing Typology presents research completed with the 2017–18 Eidlitz Travel Fellowship.

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