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In Session: Cold War, What’s Cookin’: Moral Panic, Gender Equality, Coed Fellowship, and Domestic Culture in 1950’s Japan
4: Constructing Housing Culture: From MoMA's Japanese Exhibition House to the Cold War Kitchen (1954-1959)
Monday, March 22, 2021
12:30pm – 2:00pm EDT
University of California, Los Angeles, United States
This paper examines the exhibition of an idealized Japanese house in New York City and the centrality of concrete-type public housing to postwar domestic culture in Japan. It argues that the representation and valorization of so-called traditional Japanese architecture coexisted with the production and promotion of modernized affordable housing in the 1950s. In pursuing housing as a form of politics, state and municipal organizations in Japan aimed to construct a postwar-modern form of housing that paralleled similar efforts in Europe, America, and the Soviet Union. In 1954, the Museum of Modern Art in New York built a “full size Japanese house” in its outdoor garden. The house, which simulated the residential architecture of a seventeenth-century aristocratic dwelling, remained open for two summers and attracted over one thousand people per day. Reaching into the past, the exhibit aimed to locate a uniquely Japanese architectural aesthetic and connect it to current trends in architectural modernism. Yet, in exploring formal design in architecture, the exhibit almost completely ignored contemporary housing in Japan. In the 1950s, thousands of appliance-filled concrete apartments were built on large-scale housing tracts (danchi) in cities across Japan as the government attempted to expand the supply of affordable housing in urban areas. These dwellings closely resemble those displayed at the Soviet National Exhibition in New York City (1959), but were also firmly integrated into the kind of consumption-oriented production model promoted by Vice President Richard Nixon at the American National Exhibition at Sokolniki Park, Moscow (1959).