My family and I spent three years living in Tokyo during the early 1990’s, in many ways one of the world’s most livable cities. While there, we saw many danchi described in the article, and lived just two blocks from one of these complexes. The article captures the essence of the ideal these structures represent, their decline and eventual repurposing of the land they now stand on.
What happens to modern architecture when it ceases to stand for progress—when it ceases, effectively, to be modern? New Zealand* photographer Cody Ellingham started to wonder this when he encountered Japan’s government housing complexes, or “ danchi ” (the term means “group land” in Japanese).
Though danchi may look hulking and monolithic, they are intricately designed. Windows in each housing tower are set opposite each other to provide natural light, buildings are arranged carefully to ensure that even ground floor apartments can receive sunlight, and each danchi has communal gardens and parks.
But he believes these are exceptions. “The fate of most danchi is sealed,” Ellingham wrote. “Earthquake regulations and development costs mean whole sections are being torn down. I do not think danchi will disappear immediately, but just like the wooden structures that they replaced, the gradual decline of these buildings will happen slowly at first, and then before long there will be none left.” […]