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Revival of the Machiya

Speculative Project
Kyoto, Japan
The subject of study within this project is the Ninigi Machiya, located between two popular shopping districts in the city of Kyoto, Japan. The task was to search for design opportunities and technological challenges to award this heritage of Kyoto a new life, being aware of cultural values, history and context.

The Machiya

A Machiya is a traditional townhouse, that can be found throughout Japan in different variations. The Machiya in Kyoto are called Kyo-Machiya. Most of the Kyo-Machiya that still exist are from the late 19th or early 20th century. A Machiya has a small front facade and a narrow floor plan (20 - 30 meter). Most Machiya consist of one or two, sometimes three, stories.

Typical for a Machiya is the combination of a shop or workplace, the mise or omoteya, which is orientated to the street and a residential area, the omoya, which is situated in the back of the house. The roof ridges of the omoteya and omoya run parallel to the street, and there is often a separately roofed connecting room used as the entry, the genkan, in between. A long corridor, the tôri-niwa, runs from the front to the rear end of the plot along one side of the house. In a way it is a inner “street”, as people used to carry goods for the shop and the private house along this corridor.

The space between the omoteya and omoya is usually filled with gardens, the niwa, that are lined by a narrow veranda, the engawa, protected by the eaves. The naka-niwa, the ‘middle garden’, behind the omoteya is often particularly small, hardly exceeding the size of one tsubo (3.3 m2) and thus nicknamed tsubo-niwa. Here, one commonly finds bamboo varieties that also grow in little light.

The gardens bring light and nature into the house. But they also serve a practical function such as drainage and ventilation; when one garden is watered and the other left dry, a refreshing breeze starts to circulate.

To live in a Machiya means to undergo life in a dwelling condition of ambiguity. The borders between the inside and outside, public and private are quite vague. As you move from one space to the other a world of transitions and ambiguous spaces will occur. You are inside and outside at the same moment.

The Revival

Just like in the Netherlands, commuting by bike is a popular way of transportation in Kyoto. This cultural similarity was the incentive to transform the Ninigi Machiya into a bike cafe, where people can share their biking experiences.

The Kyoto Bike Cafe is a combination of a shop, a workshop and a cafe. In the shop, people can purchase the cycling experience in the form of bikes, bike parts, accessories, clothing, books, magazines, gadgets, maps and tours. The open workshop makes it possible to assemble new and unique bikes, customising it to peoples own personal preferences. People can also go there for repair, maintenance and service and enjoy the beautiful garden while waiting.

The zoning plan of the Kyoto Bike Cafe is based on the prototypical Machiya plan, where the shop is separated from the cafe by a shared zone with a courtyard (the tsubo-niwa). The tatami space, originally the most important space of the Machiya is preserved and used as a cafe where people can enjoy the view into the backyard (the okuniwa).

To enter the Kyoto Bike Cafe you have to pass a sequence of spaces. As you move from the street to the back of the house, you transition from a public into a more private sphere. When you enter the shop from the street, you will experience an high, open space, as the first floor from the mise is removed. The tsubo-niwa works as a threshold and invitation at the same time. In the back of the Machiya, the first floor of the omoya is partially removed, in order to create a mezzanine. The staircase to the mezzanine is a modern interpretation of the traditional Japanese step chest. The tatami cafe, covered by the mezzanine, has a more intimate character than the other spaces. The workshop is not separated from the shop or the cafe by any means as it is freely visible and accessible. This enhances the bicycle experience the Kyoto Bike Cafe aims to achieve.

The street facade of the Kyoto Bike Cafe consists of wooden lattices. On one side of the entrance there is place for bicycle parking. On the other side of the entrance there is a big shopping window, protruding from the facade. The shop window can be opened so that the shop is in direct contact with the street. Because the street facade has a zone where the visitor is protected by a roof, but not inside the shop yet, there is certain transition depth in the street facade. The entrance door is hidden by a traditional noren, a curtain which shows the name of the shop. The noren covers the entrance and functions like a veil does to a human face.

Old Facade
Existing Facade
New Facade
New Facade

Section Drawing