The appeal of a versatile accommodation —Kyomachiya townhouses

The kyomachiya townhouse has attracted attention from around the world based on its functionality and beauty of design. There is at least one American who fi nds this appealing. An architect who restores machine townhouses talks about the kyomachiya townhouse and what it means to someone who blends tradition into modern-day lifestyles.

New York native and architect Geoffrey Moussas lives in Kyoto and is fascinated by kyomachiya townhouse architecture. He became interested in the streetscape of kyomachiya townhouses, while studying architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) graduate school.
After arriving in Japan, to learn about Japanese modern construction techiniques by working at Maki & Associates + Yoshio Taniguchi & Associates, he ended up at NAKAMURA SOTOJI KOMUTEN, a famous Kyoto carpentry fi rm that engages in the sukiya-zukuri architectural style used in the creation of tea houses and other buildings. Geoffrey, who had the good fortune to have an opportunity to work there, encountered another piece of good fortune: a 90-year-old kyomachiya townhouse. He was offered an opportunity to fi x up and live in an unused kyomachiya townhouse.
The long-unused kyomachiya townhouse was like a ghost house. He performed the repairs to the kyomachiya townhouse while making inquiries of the fi rm’s carpenters. “That experience along with my experience at Maki’s & Taniguchi’s provided a solid foundation for my career in Japan,” says Geoffrey.


Subsequently, Geoffrey launched his own offi ce and became active as an architect who knows kyomachiya townhouse architecture, among other types of work. “The appeal of the kyomachiya townhouse is that it has a lot of undefi ned spaces. For example, the engawa, or veranda does not have walls, so it is not an interior space, but it does have a roof, so it is not strictly speaking an exterior space either. It is precisely because of this interstitial space, that mediates between the interior & exterior that inhabitants can live connected with nature. I believe that this concept is uniquely Japanese,” Geoffrey continues. “The kyomachiya townhouse is a house that is imbued with a surprising amount of skill and culture that is uniquely Japanese. The number of these kyomachiya townhouses has been decreasing in recent years, but my intention is to preserve them for the future while adapting them to today’s lifestlye. Formerly, townspeople lived in them, but in recent years, they have been used as cafes and stores. Most recently, they are also often being used as guest houses. They embody a culture that has been built upon year after year continually for over 1,200 years, so I think it is imperative that they be handed down to future generations.”

Washi wall (left) & washi lamps : Eriko Horiki

Design: Design 1st + TOMURO Atelier

  • Geoffrey P. Moussas
    Architect. CEO of Design 1st. Born in New York, came to Japan in 1994 after completing his master’s degree in Architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Attracted by the traditional architecture of Japan, he is based in Kyoto. He is active in the architectural repair of kyomachiya townhouses, in the design of temples, detached houses, and shops in Japan and throughout the world.