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Raze, rebuild, repeat: why Japan knocks down its houses after 30 years

Unlike in other countries, Japanese homes become valueless over time – but as the population shrinks, can its cities finally learn to slow down and refurb?

In the suburban neighbourhood of Midorigaoka, about an hour by train outside Kobe, Japan, all the houses were built by the same company in the same factory. Steel frames fitted out with panel walls and ceilings, these homes were clustered by the hundreds into what was once a brand new commuter town. But they weren’t built to last.

Daiwa House, one of the biggest prefabricated housing manufacturers in Japan, built this town in the 60s during a postwar housing boom. It’s not unlike the suburban subdivisions of the western world, with porches, balconies and rooflines that shift and repeat up and down blocks of gently curving roads. Most of those houses built in the 60s are no longer standing, having long since been replaced by newer models, finished with fake brick ceramic siding in beiges, pinks and browns. In the end, most of these prefabricated houses – and indeed most houses in Japan – have a lifespan of only about 30 years.

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