Airbnb's Yoshino Sugi Cedar House
Photography: Edward Caruso, via Co.Design

Airbnb has made its first foray into urban planning, designing a communal housing centre to rejuvenate a small town in Japan.

The brand’s new innovation lab Samara conceived the project, named the Yoshino-Sugi Cedar House – and currently being exhibited at House Vision Tokyo. It enlisted Japanese architect Go Hasegawa to create the pitched-roof community centre, which features a ground floor living and dining space for guests and locals to share, topped by a loft for overnight travellers.

Airbnb's Yoshino-Sugi Cedar House
Photography: Edward Caruso, via Co.Design

‘What excites me is that we can apply what we learned over the last eight years to create new types of commerce and new types of social change,’ Joe Gebbia, co-founder of Airbnb, told Co.Design. He has spent the past year putting together a team of product designers, architects and even a screenwriter to help get Samara off the ground.

Yoshino-Sugi Cedar House was inspired by the ventures of an elderly lady living in the small town of Tsuyama Okayama in rural Japan. Her Airbnb dwelling proved so successful that she enlisted locals as tour guides and translators for guests, creating a micro tourism economy.

Airbnb's Yoshino-Sugi Cedar House
Photography: Edward Caruso, via Co.Design

When House Vision Tokyo closes on 28 August, the house will be moved to a riverside spot in the Nara prefecture town of Yoshino and opened to the public. Locals will look after the building and revenues from bookings will be reinvested into the town.

‘Hosts get an economic stimulus and something to get excited about,’ Gebbia explained. ‘It’s a pathway to get the community to help each other, and it happens to be in the form of architecture.’

If all goes well, Samara will look at replicating the concept in towns in Japan and beyond, aiming to revitalise hollowed out urban realms. Gebbia told Co.Design they have already received calls from people across Europe, China and Korea.

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