“Mokuchin Recipe” for renovating wooden rental apartments

I run an NPO called CHAr. CHAr is an abbreviation for Commons for Habitat and Architecture. The vision of this NPO is to create a town that promotes various types of network. We are sure that network and connectivity are the most important factor for building cities and living environments in the 21st century.

We proceed with our studies while balancing this vision with theory by realizing it through practice. The core of the practical project is the “Mokuchin Recipe,” a design tool as well as a web service.

Mokuchin” is an abbreviation for wooden rental apartments in Japanese. Try to imagine a 4.5-mat apartment without a bath built in large numbers in urban areas after the war, which appears in Japanese folk songs and literature. Actually, after researching them, we have found that there are various types.

In the late 1960s, about 40% of all residents in the 23 wards of Tokyo occupied one of these apartments. In recent years, rebuilding has progressed owing to deterioration; however, there are still more than 200,000 of these apartments in the 23 wards alone.

Furthermore, there are annular areas called the mokuchin belt outside the Yamanote Line. These areas are also called the densely built-up residential areas (mokumitsu in Japanese), where low-rise wooden buildings are concentrated. Many mokuchins remain in these areas.

Still, many of them are vacant because people avoid deteriorated mokuchins, which has caused a hollowing out of cities or a decline of certain areas.

One of the reasons why many mokuchins still remain is that laws related to construction, real estate systems, and tax systems are provided based on economic policies assuming new construction after the war.

There are many apartments that cannot be renovated owing to the following reasons: they do not satisfy conditions for adjoining a road, obtaining financing for a renovation is difficult, and land ownership is complicated.

Also, since owners are aging, they may refuse to newly invest in rebuilding or find it financially difficult to do so.

Therefore, we came up with the idea of increasing the value of a building by repeating small renovations.

Renovation of the design and functions of deteriorated mokuchins will add value and attract new residents. This will promote the restructuring of surrounding areas including mokuchins. By doing this, we aim to realize revitalization and regeneration of cities and areas themselves.

The ideas for the renovation are disclosed and provided with drawings and specifications as an open source, “Mokuchin Recipe,” like cooking recipes. Presenting the ideas to the public allows architects and designers to interevene in mokuchin apartments and real estate rental markets, which they have never worked on before. If property owners and real estate companies obtain design literacy, the quality of the apartment will be bottomed up and enhanced.

How can we treat invisible connections?

Actually, deteriorated mokuchins have an intangible value of decades of memories and a relationship for their owners as well as the areas.

The scrap and build, which has been promoted as a postwar housing policy, easily and instantly cancels out memories, including spaces, buildings, and environments, that have been there for decades along with human relationships.

There are lots of long and narrow alleys in mokumitsu, where many mokuchin apartments are built. When considering combustion problems and seismic resistance, it is better to scrap and build these apartments and expand alleys to build roads. However, can we simply reset urban space and local community only from an engineering, disaster prevention, or economic perspective? This is the question our society should always ask. Although the answer may depend on the area and time, this is certainly not a discussion that is easily resolved.

The scrap and build policy has been promoted to activate the economy; however, it destroys communities, i.e., local connections which are intangible but certainly have existed. This relates to various problems that modern society faces.

Therefore, for example, we plan to focus on building safety nets of houses.

Conventional safety nets of houses are hardware-oriented policies that provide affordable houses, such as public housing, for people in need of life. This means that these policies are not connected with or lack software systems, such as mental care, support for life, and local connections.

Twentieth-century-type housing, which breaks relationships with communities, relates to the background of various social problems of today.

For example, this includes housing in which elderly care is completed in a nursing home and childcare is completed at home. Assuming these social systems, houses as well as cities have been developed.

These encompass only ideas that stimulate the economy efficiently but consideration for people and life is insufficient. This results in the isolation of people and widening disparities.

In that sense, there is a limit to the solution that relies only on hardware. Therefore, the architectural education in the Department of Architecture, which is the department in which I teach, has been also changed. We are now in an era where we cannot always say that only designs of buildings are architecture. In architectural education, it is no longer the time to teach only for hardware such as buildings and products. Education of design and architecture needs to focus more on socio-technical issues.

Building a multi-layered society

There is a recipe called kurinuki doma in the Mokuchin Recipe. This is a renovation idea of setting back the entrance, which usually faces the outside corridor of an apartment, and making a space like a dirt floor and replacing the entrance door with glass and attaching a curtain rail.

Then, light comes through the entrance that used to be dark and closed; we can enjoy natural scenery from a room. A tenant can open and close the curtain by him- or herself as needed to adjust the relationship between the outside and the inside.

This is a function similar to that of a dirt floor and a veranda, which used to be common in Japanese houses in the past. A dirt floor and a veranda are like buffer zones between the house and the outside world. The presence of these zones obscured the boundary and made it easier to connect with the outside world.

Adopting such a space or a place into a mokuchin improves lighting and ventilation, where comfort is improved. For people, as an example, who are elderly, living alone, or who are single parents raising children, this adoption makes it easier to win the support of local residents.

Japan is a capitalist society, where efficiency and being superior to others are required. Even though isolation and disparity produced in this system lead to difficulty in living, capitalism is such a large system that we cannot deny or destroy it easily.

We do not deny capitalism easily. Instead, apart from market mechanisms, we believe that it is more important to make relationships in local areas multi-layered so that individuals can acquire a variety of connections. It is important to create a society where a small system or network support an individual even when a large system may crash.

By having connections or relationships with these multilayers, we can realize a lifestyle based on the idea that living in a capitalist society is not the only thing. Thus, architecture and local space become essential factors. Through the COVID-19 pandemic, such a perception seems to have become a little easier to understand.

Recently, since teleworking has spread owing to the pandemic, probably many people have begun to look around their home or local community. Making this a good opportunity, why not create various relationships?

Layers other than the workplace will be added to your world, which may make your life fruitful and make life easier.

These layers are developed in relationship with other people. Through building a house or a city, we will provide our society with a platform where such connections can easily be developed.

* The information contained herein is current as of May 2022.
* The contents of articles on Meiji.net are based on the personal ideas and opinions of the author and do not indicate the official opinion of Meiji University.
* I work to achieve SDGs related to the educational and research themes that I am currently engaged in.

Information noted in the articles and videos, such as positions and affiliations, are current at the time of production.