Protecting and Utilizing Historical Buildings
in Modern Times
Simple scrap-and-builds are an act of cultural destruction. Imbedded in each architectural work from the past are the lifestyle, culture, and thoughts of its inhabitants accumulated over centuries. With the heavy roar of the demolition equipment, this invaluable heritage is left scattered in the wind.
Regrettably, this practice is taking place all across Japan with “economic efficiency” as the battle cry. At Raysum, we wonder if it’s possible to halt this process.
Kyoto townhouses are one such cultural artifact under threat. Colloquially known as “eel beds” due to their unique, elongated structure, Kyoto townhouses are symbols of the city’s cultural inheritance. They embody Kyoto’s quintessence regarding everything from clothing to cuisine, architecture, work, study, and leisure. These architectural styles, designs, townscapes, and lifestyles all constitute the city’s precious cultural legacy.
That said, due to their unique structures, Kyoto townhouses are challenging to convert into other uses. As such, many are simply destroyed to make way for the modern, the efficient, the new. Day by day, they disappear.
Located just south of the Kyoto Imperial Palace, this townhouse, where master craftsmen plied their trade for generations, also could not escape this undertow. According to the Hotel Business Act, in order to renovate and convert the property, all two-hundred-and-eighty square meters of the property must be rebuilt using noncombustible materials. As such, demolition seemed inevitable.
After much reflection, we decided to circumnavigate the legislation by reducing the total floor area to less than two-hundred square meters – a method that flies in the face of everything modern real estate companies stand for. As a result, we were able to rescue this precious piece of our history from the wrecking ball. Thanks to the collaborative spirit of the city of Kyoto and its local communities, and supported by the passion and enthusiasm of skilled carpenters, gardeners, and other craftspeople, we successfully preserved the building’s traditional architecture and design. Now named “Tawara-an,” it lives anew as a lodging facility where visitors can feel the deep history of Kyoto during their stay.
This one-of-a-kind space fusing history and culture not only offers a unique experience for guests, but can also be used for family celebrations, reunions, or corporate meetings away from the hustle and bustle of everyday downtown life. In February 2020, the City of Kyoto classified Tawara-an as an “individually designated historical townhouse.”
Tawara-an, a Kyoto townhouse on a fifty-meter-deep site originating from the Heian period (794-1185), has returned to its roots as a historical inn (in complete compliance with local ordinances). It has been an indescribable pleasure to gift future generations with a precious cultural artifact once doomed to disappear, yet resurrected anew for modern times.