Sharing culture as catalyst for an architecture of place

A building without people is just sculpture. It can be admired and revered but it is hard to love.

In a time of huge technological innovation, construction methodologies allow us to pierce the skies, shape our cities and build grand structures. However, this rarely creates meaningful spaces and often these shining jewels are easily forgotten the moment you leave. To create a strong piece of architecture, spaces should act as vessels which bring people together. In an ever more digitized world, the architect should push to create deeper and more seamless connections with ourselves and others, with the promise of bringing down the barriers that divide communities. In reality, Architecture is where life happens and where communities connect.

The Yoshino Cedar House, designed by Go Hasegawa, forged by the history of the town, and built by its craftspeople, uniquely challenges efficiency-driven construction with an architecture of place. At every stage of the building process the people of Yoshino have played a vital role. From the guardian of the forests, the local woodcutters, the forestry association, the master carpenters to the eventual hostmany, many hands have touched this building. Beyond being an exploration of a unique local material, it honors and brings together all who manifest a building into life and challenges us to return to place-driven building. Go-san was the conductor of an orchestra of local talent.

As we turn our back on traditional craftsmanship, material-centric towns like Yoshino have lost business after business as we erect boxes in the sky. Only a few decades ago the town had double the population, most of whom were working in sustainable forestry. Nowadays Yoshino, shrinking rapidly like many rural towns, is surviving by a small window of touristic opportunity. For four weeks of the year, the mountains surrounding Yoshino erupt in blossoming cherry trees, creating an incredible vista with over a million visitors descending on the region. To truly understand the beauty of this place is to stay there during the other 48 weeks of the year and to experience day to day life. 

The true innovation in the Yoshino Cedar House was to infuse that daily life into the design̶creating a shared living space with the community at its heart and a financially sustainable ecosystem that supports the town beyond the envelope of the home.

Community as host

This collective home invites guests to experience the strength of a people from the moment you walk through the threshold. The ground floor level co-exists as both living space and community center allowing both local and visiting occupants to blur the relationship between host and guest. You may enter as a stranger but depart as part of the community or even its host. As you ascend upstairs your relationship with the building shifts from connecting with others to a reflective place of self. To truly understand the soul of this building is when you experience it in Yoshino. 

In October 2016 the building returns home, located less than 5km from where the trees were felled for its structure and a short walk from where the master carpenters had assembled it. The home will rest along an east-west axis on the banks of the Yoshino River at the location timber has been collected for over 500 years, overlooking a local fishing spot and view of the surrounding forests. Sleeping areas are divided by sunrise and sunset rooms with vistas set up for quiet contemplation.

Guest as catalyst for cultural resilience

Airbnb is one of the only global community-driven brands, our model strengthens with the culture of sharing, as connections deepen and communities are more integrated. The Yoshino cedar house is more than an authentic experience of rural life; it invites you to make a tangible impact in its future. The home will be the first Airbnb in the world to have a dedicated community development fund, directly supporting local artisans and artists. Every time there are guests in the home, funds are allocated to strengthening the cultural legacy and future of Yoshino. This is a precedent of hospitality with a social contract and creates a mechanism for cultural resilience in the many shrinking villages and towns around Japan.

If this pilot is successful, architecturally designed placed-based homes, both new and restored, could be listed across Japan and many other countries. Trust based community-driven development is a new generator of economic strength for rural communities around the world and Yoshino Cedar House is the first ripple in an ever deepening river.

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