Devicology: Expanding fieldwork possibilities for architectural observations in inhabited interiors

the case of Japanese post-war mass housing



Japan, social housing, postwar mass housing interiors


Japanese mass housing from the 1960s has a colloquial nickname — danchi, which can be translated as “common land.” Originally celebrated by the public as a highly desirable living environment, danchi are now becoming a source of problems for the government. After briefly introducing the reader to the history of danchi, this paper will turn to investigate the interior lives of their current residents who stay hidden from the media attention behind dilapidating concrete walls and layers of social stigma. This work will attempt to propose a practical methodology on how to collect and interpret ethnographic materials from the apartment visits in relation to factual architectural knowledge. The data collected during the visits became the most controversial part of this research: in the spotlight is the abnormal inability of danchi residents to verbally admit their unsatisfactory living conditions that arises from the Japanese cultural characteristic of gaman, roughly translated as “perseverance”. Despite dire living conditions, clearly depressed inhabitants keep repeating that they cannot imagine living a better life. Balancing on the edge between ethnography and architecture, an innovative interior analysis method named “Devicology” (in homage to Wajiro Kon’s “Modernology”) can help us look beyond these modest replies by detecting “devices” —– intricate systems of unconventionally used furniture and smaller, less permanent objects, that are unconsciously assembled by the residents. These visually chaotic yet surprisingly functional structures are the only tool of the current dwellers to negotiate with the restricting standard apartment plans that were originally designed for a very different sector of the Japanese population. Beginning as an examination of behaviour patterns in a single apartment, Devicology has the potential to become a study of the collective unconsciousness of different people stuck in the same conditions with the same set of rules.


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