Renovation in Tokyo creates a house for four generations

dining room
© Satoshi Shigeta

What the Club Sandwich Generation looks like in Tokyo, where it is unusual to renovate instead of starting from scratch.

We have noted before on TreeHugger that Japanese houses are often demolished after a few decades and that old houses are considered worthless. Nate Berg recently picked up on the subject in the Guardian, writing:

depreciation of house pricesRichard Koo/Screen capture
Unlike in other countries, Japanese homes gradually depreciate over time, becoming completely valueless within 20 or 30 years. When someone moves out of a home or dies, the house, unlike the land it sits on, has no resale value and is typically demolished. This scrap-and-build approach is a quirk of the Japanese housing market that can be explained variously by low-quality construction to quickly meet demand after the second world war, repeated building code revisions to improve earthquake resilience and a cycle of poor maintenance due to the lack of any incentive to make homes marketable for resale.

But he also notes that this is changing and that people are buying older buildings and renovating them. One renovator notes that, “Nowadays young people don’t have much money, so they won’t hesitate to buy older buildings.”

house for four generations stair© Satoshi Shigeta

Sometimes there are other reasons for renovating. shows a renovation of a Tokyo house by Tomomi Kito Architect and Associates, a 40-year-old timber structure, to accommodate a four-generation family.

house for four generations kitchen© Satoshi Shigeta

The clients, a young couple and the wife’s parents, were already living here before the renovation. Soon after, the wife’s grandmother, who lived alone in the countryside far from Tokyo, also decided to move in. As such, the clients requested to renovate the house and to make it suitable for accommodating 4 generations—the grandmother (1st generation), the parents (2nd generation), the clients (3rd generation), the clients’ son (4th generation).

Yikes! That's what's been called the "Club Sandwich generation", where, according to an article I quoted in MNN, "In 20 years’ time, one in four families will include frail great-grandparents in their 80s and 90s, as well as infant great-grandchildren, who will require childcare." That's what is happening in this house.

house for four generations hall© Satoshi Shigeta

As the age as well as daily living rhythm of each family member are different, creating a space to promote a comfortable connection among them was one of the major challenges of the project.

house for four generations room© Satoshi Shigeta

Common spaces adjacent to private rooms were secured in each floor. They act as communication hubs to seamlessly connect different generations. The private rooms are also exchangeable among the members so as to enhance communication between generations; similar to a share-house lifestyle.

house for four generations room© Satoshi Shigeta

However, since private rooms were prioritized in planning, securing enough natural daylight in the common space on the 1st floor became another challenge; particularly as it faces north. Consequently, a catenary ceiling was designed on the 2nd floor to better reflect daylight into the 1st floor; this became a distinguishing feature of the house.

average area per capita© shinkthatfootprint

Like most Japanese houses, it is rather small at 140 square meters or 1506 square feet. That's not much for six people; just 251 SF or 23.3 m2 per person, even lower than the Japanese average of 35, but higher than the Hong Kong average of 15 and less than a third the American average of 77m2 per person. It's tight.

house for four generations living© Satoshi Shigeta

But hey, thanks to good design, "The catenary-shaped ceiling now gently envelopes all 4 generations of the family who ultimately enjoy living in a space abundant of natural daylight and ventilation." More at

Renovation in Tokyo creates a house for four generations
What the Club Sandwich Generation looks like in Tokyo, where it is unusual to renovate instead of starting from scratch.

Related Content on