2.2 Traditional machiya houses in Kyoto are demolished each day

Two renovated machiya by Kazuya Morita Architecture Studio.

Kyoto City is losing its traditional machiya townhouses at an alarming rate, with an average of 2.2 of these symbolic houses demolished each day.

On May 1, Kyoto City announced that approximately 5,600 machiya have been demolished over the past seven years. In 2016, a survey found that there were 40,146 surviving machiya in the city.

Of the surviving machiya, 14.5% are vacant and not occupied by owners or tenants, an increase of 4 points from the previous city survey in 2009. Kyoto City’s vacancy rate across all types of housing was 14% in a 2013 survey.

Owners tend to be elderly that struggle with the ongoing maintenance that an old house requires. In many cases they will sell to real estate companies who will demolish the house and either develop an apartment block on the site or sell the vacant land.

In September the city plans to begin discussions on a proposal that would obligate owners of machiya to inform the city prior to demolition.

Traditional Kyoto machiya are wood-frame merchant houses built prior to the 1950 introduction of the Building Standards Act. They usually feature mud walls, latticework bay windows (degoshi) and distinctive slat windows (mushiko-mado). The definition also includes the ‘kanban-kenchiku’ signboard-style of houses that had a converted shopfront on the street side of the house.

Renovating and restoring an old wooden townhouse is entirely possible, although the limitations of working with an existing structure and the relatively high costs often make it easier and cheaper to just demolish and build a new house. Machiya can be purchased from as little as 10 million Yen up to several hundred million Yen.

In 2016, Hermes opened a pop-up shop in an old machiya in the traditional Gion district. The interior was renovated by Koichiro Oniki of Oniki Design Studio. The store is open until the end of July 2017.

Hermes Gion Pop-Up Shop

The Kyoto Shimbun, May 2, 2017.
MBS, May 2, 2017.

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