In terms of the real estate market, the situation in Japan is quite literally alien to our own. While we track mean property values almost religiously, with nearly every newspaper showing pages and pages of charts, the Japanese don’t list the potential monetary value of a property as high on their list of priorities. Building a home that is right for them is much more important than thinking about what features a future buyer might like to see. In fact, Japanese homeowners often have the mindset that no one else is ever going to inhabit their home. While this might not be very easy to comprehend for us folks in the west, you can probably imagine how liberating this approach might be in terms of the architecture.
Tokyo-based architect Alastair Townsend talked about how and why strange and wonderful architecture is so commonplace amongst domestic properties in Japan in an article he produced last year for the arch daily online journal. The article attracted significant interest and even resulted in a visit from CNN.
The images that he selected to accompany the article exhibit perfectly what he meant when he used the phrase “oddball architecture.” These included a property that was essentially a triangular shaped, grey coloured structure that had no windows, a huge glass box that was three stories high and another property that could only be described as some sort of concrete puzzle piece, and an abandoned one at that.
After studying at London’s Architectural Association, Townsend later moved to Tokyo with his wife and business partner Kayoko Ohtsuki, giving him a unique perspective over architectural trends in the country. He has noticed that among the younger members of the population, their primary goal is to eventually live in a newly built property. It doesn’t matter whether it’s an apartment in the city or a fairly isolated house in the suburbs, it’s just about living somewhere that’s uniquely theirs. The idea that someone else has lived in a property before them is not an attractive one.
“When they build these properties, there’s no expectation that they are going to flip them for a profit later on. In fact, there’s no expectation that they will sell them at all” Townsend added. “That’s because it is not like the UK where you try and move up the housing ladder, one rung at a time; there is no housing ladder in Japan.”
So do these homes that exhibit oddball architecture attract widespread interest and becomes sort of iconic landmarks in the local area? “No” says Townsend. “These properties are built around very eccentric visions, and the wish to live inside someone else’s vision is something that probably doesn’t exist.” Most of the people that come to see these homes, do so because they have a serious interest in architectural design, not because they are interested in purchasing them. The way housing works in the western world, where properties typically appreciate in value over time doesn’t exist here. It’s more about how great a value the property has personally, rather than financially.