Over five hundred years ago, the capital of Japan burned to the ground as a result of the Onin war, and from its ashes arose a form of architecture that would be built nowhere else. Kyomachiya literally means "capital town house", and that is precisely what they are. Capital in this case means the city of Kyoto, and the wooden houses where merchants and artisans both lived and worked provided a space in front for a store, in the middle for family quarters, and in rear for workshops and warehouses. At one time Kyoto was teeming with machiya, the long, narrow houses arranged in rows that went on for miles.
Kyomachiya have had something of tragic history during the last seventy years, mirroring the circumstances of their inception, as they have been torn down in surprising numbers to make room for the post-war philosophy of modernization at any cost. The reason for the destruction of the kyomachiya is not difficult to understand. The head of The Kyoto Machiya Craftsmen's Group put it best when he said that machiya are cold in the winter, hot in the summer, and always dark and humid. Why then are they worth saving?
Machiya are a visceral link with Japan's past. A machiya houses a thousand years worth of craftsmanship that unfortunately is not seen in the modern glass and concrete structures blighting the contemporary skyline. Machiya make efficient of use of raw materials during building; their simple construction makes possible repairs that would require the razing of any other sort of structure, thus allowing them to last through the ages. Machiya also mix commercial and residential space in a single structure, which promotes healthy, sustainable neighborhoods where people can do their shopping and conduct business in one area rather than scattered throughout the city. Such a system encourages strong bonds to the others living in the vicinity. A machiya's understated appearance is a pure Kyoto aesthetic; their construction incorporates a number of ingenious designs, and for any number of reasons, up to and including the fact that they are an integral part of Japan's history, make them worth studying in depth and saving from the scrap pile. Further, with a few small modern additions, they can be every bit as comfortable to live in as a modern structure.