The Japanese housing market is a peculiar phenomenon. Unlike homes in Western nations, Japanese residences depreciate rapidly in value over time. As argued by economists Richard Koo and Masaya Sasaki in a 2008 report, a typical home loses all economic value within 15 years of being built. Houses, too, have a limited physical lifespan – an estimated average of twenty years for wooden buildings, and thirty for concrete structures.
It’s a cultural anomaly that makes a new exhibition opening today at Amsterdam gallery Looiersgracht 60 all the more thought provoking. Co-curated by architects Véronique Hours, Fabien Mauduit, Manuel Tardits and photographer Jérémie Souteyrat, ‘Japan, Archipelago of the House’ charts 70 Japanese homes – all built exclusively by Japanese architects – from 1933 up until 2013.
The show frames Japan’s residential landscape in three chapters. ‘Yesterday’s Houses’ comprises a small but perfectly formed collection of residences built between 1933 and 1984, featuring dwellings by the likes of Tadao Ando and Toyo Ito.
Tokyo homes, meanwhile, are spotlighted care of Souteyrat’s memorable ‘portaits’ of the Japanese capital’s most striking examples of residential architecture – and perhaps its most transient. From earthquakes to unusual building regulations, a number of economic, cultural and geographical factors have all contributed to the city’s fluid architectural make-up.
Finally, ‘Today’s Houses’ examines more recent homes built over two decades from 1993–2013, comprising case studies by Shigeru Ban Architects, Yasushi Horibe, Atelier Bow Wow and Mikan. Interviews with the homes’ inhabitants explore notions of extreme functionality and economy of space, and are further supplemented by drawings, maps, photographs and films from the architects.
The exhibition’s minimalistic design reflects the ‘simplicity of Japanese design’, having been especially conceived for portability. The lightweight display system is made entirely of poplar plywood – a commonly used material in Japanese houses — and based on the measurement of traditional Japanese tatami. Having previously been exhibited at the Design museum Ghent, the show will have a homecoming of sorts as it travels to Japan.
Japan's disposable home culture may seem wasteful – certainly, it has placed stress on the economy and environment. Yet is precisely this culture that has fostered Japanese architects to design curious and compelling housing.