What Is a House?: Architects Redesigning the Domestic Sphere in Contemporary Japan, 1995-2011

Cathelijne Nuijsink, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation examines how the detached house in Japan is part of a discursive space of a jūtakuron, or “housing debate,” among Japanese architects from the late 1950s to the present. This intense theoretical examination, in turn, is what drove the production of a series of radical house experiments that critically addressed the question of “what is a house?” Using as primary sources the most prominent Japanese architecture journals, an archive of personal interviews with architects and residents, as well as site visits that attest to the lived experience, this study identifies a significant shift in the housing debate and designs from the mid-1990s onwards. It takes the writings and works of Kazuyo Sejima and Atelier Bow Wow as emblematic of this recent transformation in the conception of a house from a stand-alone aesthetic object—or “house as art” as Kazuo Shinohara declared in 1962—into an architecture of social engagement. Ani Hausu (1995) and Bairin no Ie (2003) are the two case-study houses used to explain how this critique of existing domestic values manifested itself in a new interest in the house as a container of a tangible lifestyle rather than a mere spatial composition. Influenced by this change, an entire younger generation of architects could no longer design the home as a closed and private shelter in the city, but came to understand it as an environment that conceptually extended beyond its plot boundaries. This altered understanding led the new generation to propose to their clients a different way of living, one in which residents were encouraged to interact with things and people inside and outside the house rather than withdraw from them. The objective of this analysis is not simply to demonstrate that the discussions on the house and the houses actually built were crucial to professional architects. By identifying how architects not only recognized a growing discrepancy between the ideology of “the standardized container” for “the Japanese family” and its reality, but actively proposed alternatives, this study considers the architect-designed house to have a much wider cultural significance beyond the profession.

Subject Area

Asian History|Asian Studies|History|Architecture

Recommended Citation

Nuijsink, Cathelijne, "What Is a House?: Architects Redesigning the Domestic Sphere in Contemporary Japan, 1995-2011" (2017). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI10608050.