Tokyo and its 23 wards: minimum site areas

This map illustrates the repartition of the minimum site area in Tôkyô and its 23 wards (Little Tôkyô). According to many urban planners, developers and constructors, Tôkyô has a problem of scattered small-scale lots. This map does not represent the repartition of these small plots, but focuses on the minimum site area fixed at 60 m2 in residential areas, and 55 m2 in commercial areas.
For many constructors, Housing problems (lack of housing floor space, to quote one problem among many others) can be achieved by assembling the current small parcels. By doing so, high-rise and multi-used structures can be built in a large-scale parcel. Yet, assembling these micro-parcels poses various and important problems due to their size and their shape : many of them have irregular shape : hatazao, unagi no doko, kado, or respectively flagsite (L-shaped), 'eel' site (long and thin with a narrow entrance) and corner site (open to two sides. Therefore, one can add sloping (shamen) site to this list) are very hard to pool. The main characteristics are that their size is less than standard site area. In Tôkyô, as I wrote in the previous thread, standard site area is approx. 112.0 m2. However site area less than 100 m2 are very numerous.
Recently, due to a "come back" to the Center, many young people — young couple, single, couple with children, and even couple with children and one grand-parent — are searching to build a house on these small plots. These parcels are cheap insofar as the intensified subdivision practice (saibunka) causes to drop in value. As I wrote previously, the TMA and the National Territory Agency noted that a 270-square-meter site divided into 3 parcels of 90 m2 causes a important depreciation of the site. When the site value was 567 752 ¥/m2, each divided parcel (90 m2) costs 24 711 ¥/m2. In this context, the sale of such a small and depreciated plot is very hard, or used to be hard, for, recently, the new tendency demonstrates, as mentioned above, that they are sold much easier than the last decades.
And in this perspective, it would not be surprising that minikaihatsu (mini residential development plan) will continue to be used as main residential development tool.
Back to the site size: according to the Tôkyô Gouvernment Area, as it is mentioned on the illustration, 19 % of the minimum site areas of the UPA (shigaikakuiki) are compounded of smallest parcels. The minimum site area is fixed nearly 60 m2. Yet it is common to find plots less than 60 m2. Some housing projects such as Schemata Architects' 63.02°, a tiny house, with minimal footprint (the site floor is approx. 24.58 sqm). This House has been built in Nakano-ku, one of these densely wards of Tôkyô. This house is mixed-used: SOHO (very common in Japan) and apartment for rent. Due to strict regulation laws (that I will analyse briefly in a next, next, next thread, that means that will not be for now, not next week), particularly prospect rules (the relation to street and adjacent building), that is called in Japanese shasen seigen, the façade is inclined in 63.02° toward the front road. This inclination, also, permits to measure out light and ventilation inside the house, — an important point in Japan. Regulations law complies architects with a strict direct sunlight law (hikage kisei or nisshô kisei). As urban planner Yamagata Hiroo notes "Japanese residential units are required to have a minimum of four hours of direct sunlight every day". Indeed, the direct sunglight law fixes an alloted slot from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm. In the case of 63.02° SOHO/apartment, one will understand that, not only the inclination of the façade, but also the use of large windows that are opened on the inclined façade is important. I will probably go back to the analysis of windows in housing (of course the starting point will be Japanese Home due to this complexity), in a next thread.
Another important point is the plot itself. These subdivided plots are from many reasons that need pages and pages that this blog can't allow, but, it is prevalent to say that one of the utmost reasons is the nature and the character of these plots. They are the result of subdivision of fragmented farmlands. Indeed, the same Yamagata Hiroo assests that Tokyo "already has a problem of small parcels of farmland scattered within the built-up urban area." Japan, in fact, has a long tradition of fragmentation of farmlands. As I wrote in the previous thread, many reasons, that I won't explain in detail, play an important role. I will just enumerate them : Land readjustment (kukaku seiri), mini residential development plans (minikaihatsu), and of course land price speculation, and land tenure.
As you can see in this map, these tightest plots are concentrated in five wards: Setagaya, Megurô, Edogawa, Nakano and Suginami. Those wards have a high demographic density, respectively 148.3 inhabs/ha, 183.0 inhabs/ha, Edogawa 133.8 inhabs/ha, Nakano 201.6 inhabs/ha, 158.6 inhabs/ha, or are closed to the central wards such as Megurô (near Minato).
In order to control the subdivision of plots, TMA introduced measures of minimum site areas, that, as mentioned above, are fixed at 60 m2 for the residential areas and 55 m2 for the commercial areas. These measures were passed in the framework of the 1992 Urban Planning Act. Minimum site area fixed at nearly 60 m2 has, precisely, a coverage ratio of 60 %. Of course some areas are under stricter restrictions such as zones under natural disasters protection. I will post a thread illustrated with maps represented these zones under natural disaster zones (bosai in Japanese), such as the protection zones (bôka chiiki. The Earthquake Prevention Renewal Areas designated in Central Tokyo is one of these numerous protected districted).
TMA plans to create a subdivision manuals (saibunka shidô yôkô) that would permit to control the intensified subdivision of plots.These manuals would indicate various patterns such as division number, minimum site areas, lot coverage ratio, among others. Indeed, if residential developments based on land reajudment (kukaku seiri) and redevelopment projects (saikaihatsu) are under restriction, the control over mini residential development (minikaihatsu) practice is still very light. Indeed, as André Soressen notes, "In LR and redevelopment projects the formal agreement of all or a two-thirds majority of landowners is required by law", while no restriction as such had been passed in the Urban Planning Act of 1968. Then, developers using mini residential development instrument is not complied with the development of land for infrastructures and facilities. One of the goals of the Urban Planning Act of 1992 is to make up for this shortage and to halt subdivision damage.
A next thread will focus on some wards which are passed stricter controls on subdivided land.


WAP 2.0 : My favorite finalists are

I've already talked about WAP 2.0 competition in a previous thread, I will not go back to the presentation of this fascinating competition. In this thread, I only present my favorite finalists (for the other fascinating finalits, please check WAP 2.0 website) and Lateral Office with "P1117 Coupling Infrastructures: Water Economies/Ecologies". I included a quick presentation of my third favorite finalist — because I fistly decided to choose only two favorite finalists — UrbanLab "1,000,000,000 Global Water Refugees"
The first finalist is Rael San Fratello Architects's "P1145 Border Wall as Infrastructure" proposal.
I am particularly interested in the relationship between architecture and political. I usually follow Teddy Cruz's reseach and architectural projects on the border of Mexico and USA, particularly on Tijuana and San Diego Border Neighborhoods (I will add in this list of architects/activits Paris-based aaa). A detailed presentation of his research is available in Verb Crisis. Architecture and Urbanism are used as critical tools for rethinking our society, and also Architecture and Urbanism themselves. As we know, this border has affected not only the very space-making and city-building on both USA and Mexico, but also their ecological agenda. For Teddy Cruz, the border wall is a "geography of conflict". This is what Rael San Fratello Architects attempted to demonstrate. their proposal "Border Wall as Infrastructure" consists of:
[T]here exists far more potential in a construction project that is estimated to cost up to $1,325.75 per linear foot." Recognizing the high cost, limited effectiveness and unintended natural consequences of the new, multi-layered US/Mexico border wall (disruption of animal habitats, diversion of water runoff that has caused new flooding in nearby towns), this proposal names 30 alternatives (covering nearly the whole of the Mexican alphabet, literally from Aqueduct wall to Zen wall) that might better combat the energy crisis, risk of death from dehydration, disruption of animal habitat, loss of vegetation, negative labor relations, missing creative vision and lack of cross-cultural appreciation likely in the government sponsored version.
To a certain extent, this proposal unfolds a political act. This is why I decided to select them as my favorite finalists. They attempt to analyse the impact of the demarcation of this territory in terms, not only, of spatiality, but also of sustainability, economy, social, and politics, that affects the everyday life of inhabitants (especially in Tijuana side).
Here is a quick illustrated overview of their proposal:

Who are Rael San Fratello Architects? This Oakland-based young architecture firm has been founded by Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello. Their works have been published by a numerous of magazines such as Metropolis Magazine, Domus, Praxis (see Praxis # 10 "Urban Matters"), Architect Magazine. Rael San Fratello Architects are defined as Environmental Activists through design.
They developed this project with Emily Licht.

The second is Lateral Office's proposal. They explored water crisis. If they selected Southwest regions for their case studies, their proposal is the illustration of today water problem. I may be naive but I am astonished to see that today, in the 21st century, water is still a problem that must be urgently solved not only in terms of lack of water, but also of distribution and storage.
Here is the presentation of their proposal:
"P1117 Coupling Infrastructures: Water Economies/Ecologies

Proposal location: case studies include Salton Sea, Mono Lake, and Owens Lake in California and Pyramid Lake in Nevada yet proposal is applicable to numerous locations, particularly in the southwest.
Primary issues: This proposal focuses on America's impending water crisis, particularly in cities in the southwest where growth is high and water availability is limited, by rethinking water use, distribution, and storage. Using the Salton Sea as a model site, the proposal envisions "converting the Sea back to its recreational use while allowing multiple economic opportunities for the production of water, salt, and more efficient greenhouses." Here "infrastructure [becomes] an extension of nature." Island pods provide for salt harvesting, recreation, and new animal habitats.

Some illustrations will, I hope, give the reader an overview of their proposal:

Lateral Office is a Toronto-based architecture firm founded by Mason White, Lola Sheppard. The office is compounded of the both founders and Neeraj Bhatia. Lateral Office developed a large number of projects in various fields — architecture, urbanism and research such as History Rising: Dubai's Visible Cities for ACSA conference in 2006, to quote but a few. They developed an open source blog entitled Infranet lab in which they regularly post the results of their research. I appreciate their blog that I visit since this week. I discovered their work via WAP 2.0 competition. Further information on their works is available in PDF format.
Of course the other finalists have proposed fascinating projects. For instance the third favorite finalist (that I have not included because I decided to choose only two but) American architecture firm UrbanLab (Chicago)'s proposal "1,000,000,000 Global Water refugee" explores what I noticed above : the water crisis that affects some regions (this time, the lack of water) of our earth. For their proposal, they studied different locations in America — Milwaukee, Buffal, Detroit, Chicago, and Cleveland). Their project outlined "the strategy for redensification of under-utilized post-indutrial landscapes by relocating populations threatened by water scarcity".
Some illustrations:

UrbanLab combines Architecture and Design to explore the mutation of the 21st century city. This Chicago-based architecture firm have been founded by Martin Felsen and Sarah Dunn. Their projects include single and multi-family projects, new commercial and conversions of industrial buildings into live and workspace lofts, restaurant interiors, and museum installations. They, also, develop research on city and its transformation (and contradictions) such as their project Growing Water.
For this project "1,000,000,000 Global Water Refugees", Lee Greenberg, Jeff Macias, and Katherine Eberly were the other members.
I wish a good luck for these finalists.
Another competition that has just announced the result is Reinvent Cities. The winner is Paris and Santiago-based Ignacio Echeverria. But I will post a thread on this result and this competition that I just discovered.
Last news : WAP 2.0 announces the Symposium WPA 2.0: Working Public Architecture, the Monday 16 November 2009 at Washington DC. For further information, please check WAP 2.0 website.


Fetichism of space Tokyo Land Shrinking (tiny plot—> small house)

I just bought a book titled "Small House Tokyo". As one knows, Japanese small houses are well-commented here and there because of Architects' capacity to build on such tiny plots. Since several years I've been interested in the transformation of Tokyo residential areas, in particular the land use. My research is focused on the transformation of Tokyo residential areas from 1923 to today. I will publish a small, very small part of my research but sometimes if I want to publish it, depending on of my humour. So let's start.
Mixity is the — 21th century city, post-kyoto city… — keyword: mixed-use land permits to mix habitat/work/leisure in an area. This is one of Tokyo Particularity. But the other side of mixity is fetichism of space, say, a competition for land. The graphic below sums up the consequences of various reasons explained in the graphic*:

The practice of subdivision (saibunka in japanese) is linked to the Japanese history of residential development. A next thread will present another aspect of saibunka: subdivided parcel and regulation laws (setback, daylights)... because imagine a congested (kamitsu) residential area (a density of 18 300 inhab/km2 such as Nakano-ku) with tiny plots and small houses poses the question of daylight. A law stipulates that a house has to be lighted up for 4 hours at least. so to be continued…

* (p.s.) : click upon the image to enlarge it

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