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Exploring Electric Japanese Housing Typology and its Architecture

Published on September 1, 2020

Author: Madhura Joshi

The recent developments in Japanese modern architectures unconventional design skills and the idea of form have increased my interest to learn the Japanese housing architecture. During my recent visit to the United Kingdom, I got a chance to attend the exhibition on Japanese domestic house architecture in Barbican Centre. The evolution of housing in any culture or region has always been my area of interest and this exhibition has fulfilled my dream to explore the history of housing in Japan from World War II till now. The exhibition has covered the transition of Japanese houses from mass housing to radical decomposition of the conventional house.




The gallery environment transformed by lighting and minimal photographs.

This exhibition has demonstrates the Japanese house architecture at different scales and various temporalities within the Barbican gallery space, which reflects on the extraordinary possibility of exhibiting architecture. This exhibition has showcases different movies, tv serials, models, photographs and drawings to show the development in residential architecture with changes in the Japanese economy, Urban landscape and family structure. This has helped me to understand the different factors outside architecture, highlighting the role of the house in Japanese culture.

Architectural representation of Japanese house design and history – 

1. Film on Mass housing in Japan from Exhibition – In the wake of the war, the widespread devastation of Tokyo and other cities in Japan brought an urgent need for new housing and the single family house become the foremost site for architectural experimentation. The current Japanese house design has exhibited the solution to living in urban areas under constraints with the creativity of design and space formulation. During World War II, Tokyo had lost 4.2 million houses and this has created the urgent need for an efficient and cost effective method of rehousing the population. This has resulted in the development of standardized, modular design with the use of the prefabricated material, where Japanese architects applied techniques of mass housing and standardization to the single family house.


Glimpses from Film – the development of mass housing in Japan


2. Architectural models –


     Model representing modern form of Japanese house with detail space formulation



House A marks Hitomi Fujji’s first engagement with the grid in the 1970s. This model proposes a cuboid form with deep slits sliced into the exterior provides the only variation in a neutral form. Scale – 1:200 (Card, paper, wood)

3. Architectural Drawing in different style – 



Concept drawing showing multiple facades by Sakamoto 1986 (ink on tracing paper) – overlaying of number of facades questioning the meaning of the house


These houses mediate between technology, nature and everyday life – house a living organism



Computer rendered drawing of Minimalistic Japanese house – Massing and circulation through floor plan

4. Drama or TV serials –  Filmmakers in Japan have represented the major social changes from a domestic perspective through tv serial, drama and animation. After war destruction, Japan had to go through the radical change in culture, social structure, government and infrastructure where all Japanese family caught between tradition and modernity. Filmmaker Ozu (Home Drama in 1954) has captured story through the mundane detail of middle-class families through the domestic interior and semi-mobile partitions.

Representation of Japanese house in Drama

5. Vernacular architecture of Japan –  Vernacular section of this exhibition has explored the influence of domestic environments of ordinary people on contemporary Japanese architects. In 1990s Tokyo-based firm Atelier bow bow has published a method of urban research that combines sociology, biology and anthropology. In this book, they have studied 400 years old townhouses to ramshackle bus stops. This exhibit has brings the parallel views on Vernacular Japan from folk houses to modern urban houses.



1920s Tokyo house divided into three generations coexistence. No exterior spaces, Interwoven working and living spaces, more relation to city – Traditional urban building type (1:20 – Styrene, paper, wood)



The Machiya – traditional urban dwelling. House and workplace with small garden in the centre, Relation of courtyard and windows with natural ambience (1:20 – Styrene, wood, paper)

After the 1923s earthquake, people constructed their houses with ingenious solutions from the inspiration of Pr. Wajiro Kon’s book on ethnography in Japan. These are some sketches representing the relationship of buildings and everyday life has been the major influence on subsequent generations of Japanese architecture.


Diagrams from A comprehensive Illustrations of the Household of a newly married couple 1925 – Wajiro Kon


Graph showing consumption in relation to social class in 1925, Statistics of house styles in 1930 and Diagram of the Traffic in House in 1931 – Wajiro Kon

6. 1:1 scale Japanese Moriyama House model – In the 1950s, Japanese architects and artists returned to tradition with debating on what role it would play in the re-emergent modern nation. This debate was focused on which historical style could represent the Japanese tradition in the modern age. Continuation of this debate in Japan, architects has established a vocabulary of the new design and form for the future of the country.

Currently, in South east Asia, the huge requirement of mass housing is resulting in the development of low-cost housing and in the production of cheaper houses. In Current rapid urbanisation in India, we as planners, developers, government or architects are still trying to understand the face of the Mass Housing in Cities. In such a scenario, this exhibition has helped me to learn the clever solution in response to the lack of urban spaces and mega city clutter which can be helpful to all of us in the development mass housing for Urban India. I hope these beautiful models, drawings and research on housing, culture will interest readers to learn more about Japanese housing architecture.





  1. Text and Pictures from The Japanese House: Architecture and Life after curated by Florence Ostende 1945

  2. Picture Courtesy – Madhura Joshi and Germaine Tan Wan Zheng

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