Heian Kento 1200 – Preservation methods of kyo-machiya revival

Heian Kento 1200 – Preservation methods of kyo-machiya revival

As has been mentioned in another post, a kyo-machiya renaissance was observed after the Heian Kento 1200. The most controversial topic about the revitalization of kyo-machiyas was how to preserve the past. Preserving the traditions were practiced in two different ways: frozen preservation which means keeping the kyo-machiyas as the original way at a specific period anterior to present, and adaptive preservation which argues that traditions is an continuous process of evolution and should be adapted to the modern context. Since the traditions of a kyo-machiya could be divided into the tangible architectural forms and intangible architectural programs (including lifestyles and customs), the preservation methods will be further illustrated separately under the two divisions.

For the architectural forms, frozen preservation was advocated by the government and some citizens as it represented the history and traditional aesthetics. In the late 1980s, affected by the rapid loss of machiyas during the economic boom, a number of machiya were designated as the cultural heritages of Kyoto City, which encouraged the owners to preserve the originality with national subsidy and tax reductions. For the selected houses, neither the exterior appearance nor the interior structures and materials could be changed. The restrictions were loosened in 2007,  when the newly published “Historic townscape preservation and restoration areas” regulated only the façade to be original and allowed the interior renovations. [1]

However, the frozen preservations’ detach from modern living standards still makes it difficult for owners to live in. Therefore, for most of the machiyas that are not selected, the architectural forms were renovated to make its existence meaningful instead of being left vacant. As has been mentioned in another post, kyo-machiyas were adapted to new commercial purposes like shops and restaurants. Architecturally, the traditional timber window mushiko mada were usually replaced by large glass front to attract the passers-by. The elevated tatami-covered floors were also replaced by street-level tiled floors for easy accessibility. The revival trend even influenced the design of modern manshons. As shown by the advertisement called “the twenty-first century machiya”, a modern house was equipped with the traditional timber lattice façade (mushiko mado) and claimed to be an evolution of the traditional kyo-machiyas.

Except from the preservation of tangible architectural form, the intangible architectural programs were often neglected in academic researches. For it, frozen preservation meant that the kyo-machiyas should continue to serve as dwellings, which were considered as meaningful to make the machiyas living instead of being showcased as antiques. In support of this argument, the citizens’ group “ Town House Friends” honored five machiya residents as their panelists. Apart from commercial uses, another adaptive preservation method of the building program is proposed by the artists who moved to the old district of Nishijin and transformed the district into an art zone. [2]It’s argued that the residence+workshop pattern is an excellent inheritance of the kyo-machiyas’ shop+house pattern without blindly copy the old lifestyle.

[1] Miyake, Yuhei. “Modern Kyo Machiya: Livable Architecture for Kyoto.” (2011).

[2] White, Bruce. “Tradition, Democracy and the Townscape of Kyoto: Claiming a Right to the Past.” Social Science Japan Journal 16, no. 2 (2013): 318-20.

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