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MUJI, which pursues the philosophy of “empty vessels,” challenges our strong belief that houses are “bigger, the better.”

In July 2016, MUJI announced that it would offer 2-year rent-free contracts to potential residents to test-run their new “Window house” developments in Kamakura, Japan. If you were picked through the application process, you could live in a brand-new MUJI house for free while reporting back to them how the living would go.

Left: Window House (Image courtesy of Ryohin Keikaku) It’s designed by architect Kengo Kuma, who also designed House Vision exhibition.

But don’t be surprised by the size of this house, which will be built on a lot about 1,356 square feet. On this lot, you could legally build a house with floor area up to 2,034 square feet. But this house’s floor area is only 838 square feet.  Obviously, MUJI didn’t choose this size to minimize their construction/maintenance costs because this is a test-run.  It’s decided on a careful consideration how to minimize the comfort and enjoyment of living.

This is “Window House.”  One of the main objectives is to maximize the values and benefits provided through windows. The outer environment is supposed to contribute to the richness of living experiences through carefully designed/located windows. By maximizing garden area, outside environment can dissolve into the house through windows.

Right: Window House (Image courtesy of Ryohin Keikaku)  Just like picture frames, windows could frame your favorite outside views.

Other functions are also geared toward dissolving the borders between inner area and outer area. Kamakura is a place for surfing (Patagonia Japan has an office in Kamakura). If a surfer was to live in this house, the deck furnished at the north side of the house can be used as a shower space when he/she comes back from the beach. And this way, north side of the house is strategically utilized without adding negative values.

We almost blindly believe that the houses are “bigger, the better.”  Although I don’t deny it, it’s also true that we usually don’t pay attention to the benefits that big houses cannot offer, such as flexibility, editability, efficiency or sense of strong bonds.  How would the trade-off work? Can a smaller house provide better living environment than a bigger house?

The lucky winners of MUJI’s campaign, picked from more than 12,000 applicants, will live the experiments if “smaller, the better” can be achieved through “Window house.”