"(un)private housing tokyo"

public intimacy - domestic urbanity
in the multi-layered and changing urban context of Tokyo-Akihabara

"(un)private housing tokyo"

is the name of a research and design studio organised for graduate students in architecture   at the Technical University of Berlin, Faculty 6, Institute of Architecture, from 2005 onward.


The aim of the studio is to deal with aspects of domesticity that extend into urban space, and aspects of urbanity that reconfigure the idea of the domestic. For the last 10 years, Tokyo has been recognised internationally as a laboratory for questions of the threshold between public and private space. Among other things, the density of the city, land prices, and people's relationship to work and social obligations have altered radically the traditional relationship to the notion of "Home".

In the context of Tokyo, the question of the boundary between inside and outside is articulated both physically and virtually. The physical extension of the home into the public realm is expressed through different activities such as bars, love hotels, pachinko or karaoke rooms etc. Equally relevant are "virtual" extensions like Internet, TV, mobile phones etc. produce new forms of domestic inhabitation in the city.


One new form of public intimacy is circumscribed by the phenomenon of the "otaku", a term which generally describes a kind of shy computer- or fetish- nerds. Originally, Otaku acted in their own private space and disseminated their production via Internet, mangas, self-made newspapers etc. Recently, however, some groups have emerged who live and work together and communicate through a public interface in districts like Tokyo-Akihabara. As is often the case with sub-cultural phenomena, they embody in their extreme form certain symptoms of social or cultural change. The development of the otaku as a component of the public realm represented for us an opportunity to ask different questions during the seminar. We chose, therefore, the district of Akihabara as the basis for our workshop and the student's research.

Current Controversial Strategies

In Akihabara we faced a multi-layered urban context that is currently being transformed by new socio-cultural and economic influences. The traditional role of the district as a market place for electrical and electronic hardware and software is being shifted, by the emerging presence of otaku-oriented articles and forms of display on the one hand, and by the construction of high-rise commercial, business and cultural spaces which aim to turn the image of Akihabara into a international IT-business area, on the other.

Organisation of the Studio:

The Studio was organised in 4 parts:

- a seminar phase, from January till February 2005, as an introduction and preparation for the coming study trip and design studio.

- a study trip and research workshop phase with 25 students in Tokyo, March/April 2005, in collaboration with the University of Tokyo, including lectures and interim presentations.

- a design phase in Berlin, where each student developed an urban and architectural proposal for different parts of the Tokyo Akihabara district, from April till July 2005.

- a phase of further processing, documentation and discussion from October 2005 onward.

Working Methods of the Studio:

The students analysed the district with respect to the aspects described above and developed through their projects individual responses to the question of privacy in the urban context of Tokyo-Akihabara.

Within the agenda described above they investigated, developed and articulated specific topics and programs for specific sites in Tokyo-Akihabara, supported by a coursework of methodical suggestions by the Institute. Each in their own way, the projects present a specific point of view towards the idea of intimacy and how it expresses itself in the high-density urban context of Tokyo-Akihabara.


We would like to thank the following institutions and people:

for financial support:

- DAAD (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst - German Academic Exchange Service),

- G.M./Munich and O.M./Kronberg.
for the possibility to tie up to earlier research themes and contacts in Japan:

- Christian Teckert, who did an urban research study in Tokyo during an Austrian Artist-in-Residence-Scholarship in 1999.
for their support and participation in Japan:

- Nobuko Morita

- the University of Tokyo, Department of Architecture, Professor Kazuhiko Namba, Satoru Yamashiro (research associate)

- Christian Teckert, (as-if architects and office for cognitiv urbanism, Vienna).

- Heichiro Tsukamoto (Group Leader, Kaijima Corporation, Architectural Desaign Department)
for their lectures in Tokyo: Kaichiro Morikawa, Masato Nakamura and Momoyo Kaijima, Christian Teckert, Satoru Yamashiro

as well as the guest critics in Berlin: Jörg Gleiter, Nancy Couling, Martin Heberle, Susanne Hofmann, Stephanie Kaindl, Nobuko Morita, Christoph Schmidt, Robert Slinger, Christian Teckert and Friedrich Tuczek

for translation and editorial assistance: Robert Slinger

Akihabara Design Community

This studio is participating in the network of the newly founded "Akihabara Design Community", focusing on specific urban design and design activities in Tokyo-Akihabara within a network of international universities and design institutions (Design Museum Akihabara, Akihabara Crossfield, Keio University, University of Tokyo, Technical University of Berlin, Massachusetts institute of Technology, Helsinki Art University among others).

Paul Grundei, Claire Karsenty, Institute of Architecture, Technical University of Berlin, Germany
field trip