Recently, we were approached by someone to design and build a small duplex on a tight infill house in Philadelphia. Without getting into too much detail, the lot is roughly 27′ wide by 20′ deep. Tight constraints to say the least. This footprint reminded us of one of our favorite Japanese small house designs – The 9 Tsubo House. Special thanks to our pals Justin and Greg from Materialicious for helping us dig up links to these homes.
image credit: designboom.com
Origins of the 9 Tsubo House
The 9 Tsubo House was originally designed and built by the late Japanese architect Masuzawa Makoto in 1952. The tsubo is a traditional Japanese unit of measure that equates to two tatami mats placed side by side. A tatami mat is roughly 3′ x 6′ so one tsubo would be 6′ x 6′ or 36 square feet. The 9 Tsubo house, therfore measured 18′ x 18′ for minimalist footprint of only 324 square feet. When a second floor loft is added the total square footage typically ranged from 500 – 540 square feet.
The reason for Makoto choosing these exact dimensions was based on a program offered by the houseing corporation of Japan after World War II. They would only provide loans to those people building a home of 50 square meters or less (~538 square feet). Anyone needing a larger house was assumed to be wealthy enough not to require a loan. Wouldn’t it be great if a US bank had a program like this incentivising people to build smaller homes?
Modern 9 Tsubo Houses by Boo-Hoo-Woo.com
In 2002 a company by the name of Boo-Hoo-Woo decided that this old 9 Tsubo House concept was pretty cool. They assembled 5 current Japanese designers to develop a line of homes all based on the original 9 Tsubo house by Mokoto a half century ago.
Currently there are 15 different models on the 9tubohouse.com site by 12 different designers (one is a husband & wife team). The site is in Japanese, but your Google toolbar will easily translate the majority into your language of choice. The company sells these homes online in Japan for between $120K – $200K. The craftmanship and attention to detail in every aspect of the homes is incredible. Below are some selected images from the site and sources used for this post. I highly recommend spending some time checking them out. Detailed floorplans and elevations are shown for most models.
SAH Type 1 Model
Tall NUDE Model
- 9tubohouse.com – Site of 15 modern versions of the 9 Tsubo House by various Japanese firms.
- Boo-Hoo-Woo.com – Company selling modern Tsubo Homes with fantastic name.
- Future House Now Post on 9 Tsubo Homes
- Space: Japanese Design Solutions for Compact Living – Great book featuring the 9 Tsubo House and other sweet Japanese designs.
- 9 Tsubo House with Kids from DaddyTypes.com
- Good article on origins of the 9 Tsubo House at Cup of Joe
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