Being Small, Living in Tokyo, and Being Unique

December 8, 2014

Short essay by Masaki Endoh.


Mas issue tokyo being small living in tokyo and being unique 01

Natural Ellipse House, Tokyo, 2002. © EDH Endoh Design House.

A different point of view of Tokyo is offered from that which can be seen from an observation deck of a skyscraper built as part of a large development project. A generation ago, the typical house development was a 200 m2 plot of land with a two-story wooden building and a persimmon tree in the yard. After the Japanese economic bubble burst, plots were divided and sold for not more than 60 m2, which is too small to live in.

To build a house on that kind of plot requires an extraordinary amount of energy and effort. Because the plot is physically small, one cannot build windows freely due to the closeness of the houses next door, and because the cost of the plot is so expensive, it is necessary to be innovative in ways of raising money even for a small house. The total cost of living in the city center exceeds what most ordinary people can borrow from the bank. Therefore (and in my own experience), it becomes necessary to think about financial means other than just living, such as running a shop or subletting a room. Only after these issues are resolved is it possible to live comfortably in the city center.

We have reached an era where living in the city center is not only about finding a peaceful residence for the family, but about considering how to make design interact with society and the city. That means that houses are no longer built by developers as they were previously done, but by people’s own ideas and designs.

This is the same for architects. It has become necessary for them to change the energy spent on the design of buildings in the city center. The narrow solution needed for a particular plot of land will not produce architecture that can be considered infrastructure. Therefore, problems that cannot be solved by the architect’s individual capacity—for example, new ways of using less energy, ideas for new materials, and visions of new social styles, etc.—need to be addressed by society and cities at large.

As a result, Tokyo keeps on building itself as a dynamic and heterogeneous city, divided by personal identity. Even as we speak, at the center of Tokyo, at the bottom of the towering skyscrapers, things like this are happening.