Sunday, 13 February 2011
Building a Japanese House
The first thing that strikes you is the size of the land on which they are being built, which is very small. However, in true Japanese tradition every portion of the space is fully utilised ensuring that each home is literally within arms length of its neighbour.
Most sit very close to the road, with just enough space for a small car space. The generally double storey designs vary considerably, from flat roofed modern executive styles to traditional cottages that would look more at home in England. The last remnants of Japanese aesthetic appears to have almost totally disappeared, with even the traditional tatami room increasingly giving way to the popular home cinema. However, what continues to fascinate me is the sheer speed in which they are constructed. With the foundation barely dry, the wooden framework goes up with tradesmen busily working into the night, often under floodlights in order to push the job forward. A cloth covered scaffold is neatly placed around the house while construction is underway, so for several weeks the house looks like a large present ready to be unwrapped by the proud owner in due course. There is not a cement mixer in sight, with the stone, brick or cement exterior finishes achieved by textured panels that are eventually glued on. Not surprisingly, I have heard that modern homes are not particularly well insulated and this might explain the high demand for reverse cycle air conditioning units. Nonetheless, when the finished home is revealed a few weeks later, it has the appearance of a shiny new appliance.
Le Corbusier once stated that a home should be ‘a machine for living in’ and it seems that the Japanese have taken this adage on board. Like most modern products that inevitably become obsolete, these homes are not expected to last forever. Having lived with earthquakes for centuries, the Japanese are well aware of that. I was told that 30 years was a reasonable expectation for the life of a house and with that in mind, you can well understand the sense of impermanence these modern homes often seem to reflect.