Photo by Jan Vranovský

“We are becoming consumers of our own lives,” was how we ended last month, and this transformation was complete by the beginning of the Bubble era, turning architecture into a disposable commodity. With the infusion of global capital, a new wealth, mixed with the promise of the ever-appreciating property prices, set the stage for a market where land became more valuable than the buildings on it. This constructed notion of Scrap-and-Build in Japan also begat a philosophy of “creative destruction”. The influx of money pushed an artificial demand to create greater value and to build higher and higher on less and less ground [1]. Thus, the Post-War urban growth evolved hand-in-hand with this building boom, causing many house builders to create as many low-cost, low-quality, wood-frame houses as possible [2][3]. Time passed and the present older housing stock, now considered subpar and not worth the time or money to renovate, was typically demolished and discarded instead of improved. However, this bias that “older” houses as being subpar is a confusion or an intentional conflation, by a home-grown industry that sought to stave off a different kind of foreign invasion. (In fact, typical Taisho Period wooden houses were of the highest quality and consistency. It was the apotheosis of timber construction, superseding even that of the Edo Period, engendered by the confluence of regulated forestry, highly standardized products, and skillful carpentry. This point is now moot [4].)

The root cause can be found at the end of World War II, which began this shift in how architecture was consumed. In the United States, the return of the GIs from Europe brought an immediate demand to house them, which skyrocketed the US housing industry. It was the peak of home order catalogs, exemplified by the likes of Sears. With programmatic arrangements, details, and materials within a house similar in each model, the standard suburban house transcended the need for an architect, thereby commodifying the basic unit of architecture — the house. The advent of the Levittown model was also made possible by New Deal financial instruments, such as 30-year mortgages and amortization, fostering a new consumerist-minded middle class [5].

During the national rebuilding efforts in war-ravaged Europe and Japan, the above-mentioned American system effectively became one of its lucrative exports, transferring its métier and capital with it. This brand of Pax-Americana or “Americanoiserie” would thrive in those war-torn countries’ reconstruction efforts. One place where this was acutely felt was in Japan, where the GHQ and the American occupation army remolded the host according to the ideals and aspirations of engendering a democratic stronghold in this corner of the world. However, there was a precarious paradox. While they were intent on restructuring another nation into a relative clone of themselves, they were unwilling to invest the capital. According to Akira Koshizawa [6], GHQ’s “Dodge Line” policy enacted austerity measures all the while attempting to reconstruct Japan, often compared to the more generous Marshall Plan [7]. The superimposition of an American system [8], thus, was unequivocal yet untenable. This ambiguity left room for — at times subversive — improvisation, adaptation, and ultimately, reappropriation. Incubated in the petri dish that is Japan, this reappropriation allowed for mutations in new suburbs sprouting from what were originally agrarian landscapes, satellite cities, new bedroom communities, and existing neighboring cities grew to the point that they physically merged with Tokyo to become a megalopolis, the Greater Tokyo Metropolitan area.

This was the hypertrophic manifestation of the fundamentally changed nature of architecture: the forces of globalization and capitalism in the latter half of the last century have transformed architecture into an object of consumption, understood in a sense of perishable consumer items with an expiration date — here now, gone tomorrow. The Post-War exacerbated the demand, not for the actual space of value, but for the images of success, masking its temporality and withdrawing from us what may be really generating value. Like chewing gum, it is purely constituted by taste without sustenance. Bubble Gum Architecture emerges unbuildable, untenable, titillating, but in the end, calorically empty.

Continuing in the previously stated spirit of shared experiences in finding an imperfect manifesto from an ever-incomplete city — through a meandering path of connecting topical dots to dissect, expand, and opportunistically theorize upon — please choose one subject from the following three. We will explore it in May, as we will have a guest columnist contribute for the April issue.

Topic 01 — Two Olympic Mirages
Topic 02 — Demystifying “Creative Destruction”
Topic 03 — Spiraling Landscape

English Writing: Kaz Yoneda & Gregory Serweta
Editing: Mai Tsunoo

Photo by Jun Fujisaku, Ball Furniture

[3] “Relaxation on Wooden Apartments in Quasi-Fire Protection Zones — The Japanese Ministry of Construction submitted the Building Standard Law revisions to the Japanese Diet on March 17, 1998. Info: John Powles, COFI or Hidehiko Fumoto, COFI Tokyo
[4] Interview with Tadanori Sakamoto, Chief Researcher at Takenaka Carpentry Tools Museum April 8th, 2015.




Imperfect Manifesto from an Imperfect City. Practice as a working prototype for a theory towards new architecture and urbanism, from Tokyo to the World.

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Imperfect Manifesto from an Imperfect City. Practice as a working prototype for a theory towards new architecture and urbanism, from Tokyo to the World.

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