He started to pay attention to people living on the streets of Tokyo who were building houses of their own — just not conventional ones. These houses are made from everything: cardboard boxes, scrap wood, vinyl sheets, discarded books, old telephone booths, reed screens. They’re furnished with art and some are equipped with electrical appliances powered by solar generators.
While some of these dwellings may violate local laws, Japan’s powerful constitution, which guarantees human rights and minimum standards of living, protects them and their builders. Through these houses, Sakaguchi saw a different way of thinking about architecture, and embarked on a full-fledged study.
Sakaguchi published a guide and an appreciation in the form of a photographic essay book, “Zero Yen House,” in 2004 showcasing the varied designs, and later held exhibitions and talks in Philadelphia, Berkeley, Calif., Nairobi, Kenya, as well as in Vancouver and Banff, Canada. The range of styles is remarkable: a mobile cardboard home built on a wooden cart, a house made out of a discarded playground slide, and even a house that incorporates a Shinto shrine. He went on to make videos on how to build your own mobile house.
“Sakaguchi’s work is part of a larger movement of artists responding to precarious and unsustainable aspects of Japanese society, as experienced in the cycles of boom, bust, and natural disasters over the past few decades,” said Jennifer Pastore, an editor for the art news site Tokyo Art Beat. The architect Shigeru Ban, for example, is well known for his temporary shelter and disaster housing. After Fukushima, Sakaguchi refurbished a crumbling house in Kumamoto as refugee housing and called it the “Zero Center.” At one point, 30-40 families displaced from Fukushima were living there.
“These houses are built on a shoestring budget by diverting and recycling the rubbish thrown away on the street,” Sakaguchi wrote for a 2006 exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery. “In this respect, these houses are built out of the resourcefulness of human nature, not by purchasing power.”