Studio GROSS
Tokyo, JP

Studio GROSS is an experimental practice defining architecture as a discipline of euphoria, based in Tokyo, Japan. Through filmmaking, they expand their field, intending to transmit observations on the industry to a broader community. Originally from Berlin and trained as generalists during a travelling European master's programme, today the studio genuinely believes that the profession needs to step out of its bubble and comfort zone towards working with attitude. A current PhD research at the Tokyo Institute of Technology roots the practice within a theoretical framework touching upon entanglements of the living environment.

Arriving at the first commission

While learning Japanese and getting feet on the ground in Japan, funded through a scholarship for 18 months, we reactivated abandoned houses in Tokyo and Kyoto. The interest in Tokyo's rising vacancy rate of single-family houses was overwhelming and gave us all the energy to dig deeper into its potential. Now, we are living, working, and actively transforming House 03 - a postwar 'machiya' - and ongoing renovation project. Our passion for filmmaking was discovered by the CCA, which brought us the first commission in late 2019, being the starting point of our practice. Through the challenges of the early pandemic, our relationship with the neighbourhood got extremely substantial, resulting in our first renovation project for a local gallery with a cafe and share-house in March 2020.

Identifying resources

Tokyo has unique urban conditions originating from a powerful private housing industry that formed countless wooden single-family houses comprising a decisive cornerstone of the Japanese economy. What we know as 'Void Metabolism' or 'Subdiveurban' is finally slowing down due to a severe demographic change resulting in a rising vacancy rate. The reasons for the so-called 'akiya mondai' vary from low birth rates within an ageing society to tax loopholes. We see those existing houses as valuable built resources, convincing property owners to renovate, reminding them of their responsibilities in terms of their city-ownership. We formed a small collective of local Japanese architects working in crossing fields with developers, property owners, and the local government in that context.

A sensitive approach

After moving into House 03, we rented, renovated and reconnected the adjacent studio space to the house that wasn't in use for over a decade. That space is a 14sqm small corner store that used to be an 'izakaya'. It was a gathering place in the past, so we didn't want to occupy it entirely with our own needs. In the beginning, we opened it as Anne's research base and as a project space for friends and people from the neighbourhood. These activities were supported by the Fund for Research and Innovation at TokyoTech. The response to our efforts is stunning; it gives people access to what architecture actually means! More and more neighbours stop by for a chat or questions regarding their properties, often resulting in projects.

Brimming with opportunities

After years in Japan, we've comprehended a minimalist lifestyle, meaning we have learned to live on a budget and value time as much as money. Especially now that we have become a family. Raising a child made us empathic and focused. Every day, it helps us to reflect on our needs. This way, some obstacles diminished. We enjoy the wonderfully small scale of the biggest city on the planet and don't seek public projects at the moment. As we mainly focus on renovation, we are part of a movement among young practitioners that will eventually change the public. It is unbelievable, but there is an excellent subculture evolving and a shit-load of work to do. We basically ignore competitions. We only enter a few to express a statement or discover a research point behind a theme. Japan is a philanthropic country, and companies offer idea competitions for young professionals or students that help you voice thoughts and gain some financial freedom.

Demarcating time

Office hours are 10:00-18:00, and we stop panicking when daycare does not operate for whatever reasons. We enjoy that Kiddo becomes part of the office sometimes. We get up at 6:00 or 7:00 to have a long morning together. We celebrate weekends, and a healthy work culture is mandatory. If we meet clients on the weekend or have events, we do off-grid vacations and go to the sea. Anne dedicates three days a week to her research.

Embracing a new horizontality

We like the randomness of the house: each season lets us move furniture and functions. Sometimes the studio becomes the living room, and we work on the 'tatami' upstairs. Often, we work near the 'engawa', especially when there is an exhibition in the studio. Our partnership has no hierarchies; we share our authorship the same way as our parenting.

Photography courtesy of Studio Gross, Akaya Endo (3), Koji Okumura (5)
Studio GROSS's profile is part of New Generations' new section 'Beyond Europe'


LANZA Atelier Davidson Rafailidis Architecture BRIO sauermartins Oficina Bravo Emerging European Practices (2022) Architecture for London AFAB

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