Airbnb has already radically altered how we travel and interact with the places that we visit. “Living” somewhere for a night has become a new model for belonging and interacting with a place, but it is not as simple as visiting somewhere and crashing on a couch. The new normal has also produced new disruptive economies that have affected rents, the design of our homes, and the identities of entire neighborhoods.

This new model of economic and physical occupation of residential space is rooted in libertarian notions of the free market, where less regulation and peer-to-peer connection subverts traditional markets and opens up cheaper and more sophisticated ways of living and visiting. However, Airbnb is not stopping there. AN sat down with Co-founder and Chief Product Officer Joe Gebbia to discuss the future of housing and community, specifically their latest collaboration with Japanese architect Go Hasegawa as part of the exhibition House Vision 2016.

Ten companies, including Panasonic, Toyota, and Muji were invited by renown designer Kenya Hara to participate in the exhibition opening in Tokyo this August under the theme “CO-DIVIDUAL Split but Connected, Separate but Gathered.” The curators view the home as the nexus of “energy, telecom, transportation, the possibility of aging society, the relations of city and local, the challenge of protection for village forests and rice terraces” The exhibition will feature 13 houses on display.

Yoshino (Courtesy Wikimedia/Fantasy Leigh)

Yoshino (Courtesy Wikimedia/Fantasy Leigh)

Airbnb’s project with Hasegawa, Sugi No Ie (Yoshino Cedar House), started with a simple question, according to Gebbia, “How can a house be designed to be shared and to facilitate the relationship between the host and the visitor?” Hasegawa responded with an analysis of three trends in Japan. First, an aging population and intense urbanization is causing rural villages to shrink. Housing must be subsidized, but the population decrease is making that difficult.

Secondly, in rural villages, community centers are the public gathering space for the town, and most members of the community use them. It is not a place for at-risk youth or for workshops, but the centers are literally the center of the community.

The third important factor for Hasegawa is the ways in which Western visitors have the ability to affect the local economy. For small communities, the large nightly rents can have a huge impact, while the presence of tourists provides a ripple effect in the economy. For a small village such as Yoshino, in the Nara region near Osaka, the local economy has shrunk so much that 200 people have left and there are 750 empty homes.


The solution: Hasegawa is building a hybrid community center-apartment on land donated by the town. It will be completed for the August exhibition. The aim is to attract visitors, but the center and Airbnb-rentable space would be owned by the community so that the benefits could be distributed as they see fit, hopefully recharging the local economy. The first floor serves as a living room and community center, where “the community is the host,” according to Gebbia. It could be considered a state-owned sharing economy, or at least a town-owned sharing economy.

According to Gebbia, “the local experience benefits the visitors, while the community can feel pride in that it has to offer.” For Yoshino, this includes a small-batch sake factory, cedar production, a chopstick factory, and a busting leafer scene in the fall. The hope is for a second economy to spring up around the visitors, with locally-led tours and sake tastings, and other experiences.

Local craftsmen. (Courtesy Go Hasegawa & Associates)

Local craftsmen. (Courtesy Go Hasegawa & Associates)

The house will be designed out of 28 types of wood from around the region, and the house’s plan and section are based on the ancient Japanese concept of engawa, a ledge that extends beyond the border of the house to invite in visitors to engage with the architecture. This public extension of the floor plane blurs the boundary between inside and out, as well as public and private.

Airbnb plans to have the house available as a working prototype, and will be looking into this as a possible financial model for the future. Depending on the impact a project like this can have, but the ways in which these emergent technologies like Uber and Aribnb interact with the city and the existing markets is going to be an important issue for cities in the 21st century. Harnessing their power, rather than succumbing to it will be a challenge, and perhaps one that architects and planners can contribute in significant ways.

House Vision 2016 Tokyo Exhibition

July 30 ­- August 28, 2016
Rinkai Fukuroshin, J­area, 2­1 A omi, Koto, Tokyo


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