A Jutaku-style home for Main Street America
One New Orleans architect finds a distinctly east-Asian way to make America’s starter-homes affordable
With just over 90 square metres (975 square feet) of interior space, 3106 St. Thomas in the Irish Channel neighbourhood of New Orleans has more in common with Tokyo’s housing stock than much of America’s new domestic architecture.
Yet the creator of this small, relatively affordable home, obviously believes US housing could learn some valuable lessons from Japan. The modest, though well-finished and designed house is the work of the Office of Jonathan Tate, a New Orleans architecture and design practice keen to reinvent the traditional starter home for 21st century.
3106 St. Thomas is the first test site for the firm’s starter home thesis. OJT argues that the kind of post-war tract housing built once favoured by first-time buyers in suburbs such as Levittown, New York, no longer suits the demands or incomes of would-be new homeowners; inflation has pushed prices beyond their reach, while the suburban location is no longer as attractive as it once was, given the renewed interest in city living.
OJT aims to meet America’s new price points and preferences with a series of small-ish, carefully conceived homes built on underutilised plots in US cities. These odd shaped ‘cracks’ as the firm puts it, in urban real estate bare quite a few similarities to the kind of plots on offer in Japanese cities, while OJT’s contemporary styling and high build quality brings to mind the kind of family homes lining the streets of Osaka, Tokyo, Yokohama and other conurbations.
Jonathan Tate is not purposefully mimicking Japanese building styles, but instead responding to what he sees as flaws in the way US houses are conceived and built.
"What we’re pushing against is the problem with speculative housing - and housing in general - which is that people build larger homes because that’s what markets well," Tate told Fast Co Design. "Being blunt here, they keep costs low by using cheaper materials. We’re trying to invert that. Materially, it’s a small house, but it’s not a tiny house. The term used is 'right sizing'. We’re just trying to keep it as trim as we can. That money gets pushed back into finishes and quality details."
3106 St Thomas is currently on the market for $339,000, above the cost of social housing, but within the price bracket, OJT believes, of the kind of families who once favoured America’s starter homes, and could, perhaps, enable them to start buying them once more.
For greater insight into contemporary urban life, buy Living in the Endless City; and for more on Japanese housing get a copy of Jutaku.