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ADS10: Savage Architecture — Theatres of Common Life

Xuanru Peng

Growing up in Beijing, Xuanru moved to the UK in 2012 and completed his BSc at Cardiff University with First Class Honours in 2019. At the Welsh School of Architecture, he developed a sensitivity and interest in form and spatial composition as well as an appreciation for the beneficial social impact that architecture can have on people and the places they inhabit. His final year project developed these interests by addressing civic disparity in the ‘English Riviera’ context of Torquay.

He completed his one-year placement at the Penarth based studio Loyn + Co Architects after graduating, where he worked very closely with the design team, on a variety of projects, ranging from residential to public sectors.

Last year at ADS 6, Xuanru worked with honeybees and beeswax after volunteering at Bees Urban, a bee’s farm in Kennington Park. Exploring and challenging the current relationship between nature and man as well as using the construction material of beehives to inform our own built environment. This year, based on personal experience, Xuanru is diving into the world of hikikomori and proposing a new way of contemporary living as well as suggesting a new society formed by the less powerful individuals in Tokyo, inspired by the hikikomori lifestyles.

Last year during the lock down I entered a phase where I became highly antisocial, unproductive, and barely left my bedroom. Technology has allowed me to stay at home to work, play and simply with a tap, I could have anything delivered to my doorstep. Video games became one of my final connections to life, one that is manipulated by a fantasy that, while sinking into pain, it frees itself in suspended narrations of virtual love, communities, and cyber identities. We all have this ‘need for solitude’ every now and then, but it’s when ‘being alone’ becomes the only option that separates an average introvert from a hikikomori.  

This project acts as a provocation and suggests a new way of urban living inspired by the lifestyles of the hikikomori. They avoid human contacts and live in complete isolation as a result to extreme societal pressures in Japan. In a country where social misfits see their weirdest, and sometimes, sweetest desires fulfilled by an ever-growing industry that commodifies everything from manga massage parlours, love hotels to maid cafes, the hikikomori becomes an obscure alternative to mainstream society.

By proposing a non-insistence framework, the architecture should evolve in years of use, as well as being a speculative device. The project rejects the idea of uniformity and systematisation and seeks to free the individuals that are imprisoned by the will of the more powerful through a new set of ‘rules’ that favour the hikikomori community. A place where the suppressed can declare their independence as a unique but equally visible force against the current Japanese work culture. 

Regarding the technical details, it won’t be completely under control, but more about showing a story, movements, and moments. The building only reveals a fraction of what is happening inside, the rest is just a formal expression, a performance of the architecture.

At the end of the day, it is about creating a transitional place attractive enough to lure some hikikomori out and move to here instead, where they are willing to take up the challenge of taking care of themselves with limited outside help in exchange for this collective feeling of liberation and sense of pride. 

Introducing the hikikomori community Hikikomori has been clinically defined as a 'disease' in Japan and hence a 'problem'. Traditional respect of the hermit lifestyles do not go to the hikikomori. Nito Souji, a hikikomori who just recently published his own video game on Steam, is actively learning new skills at home and regularly produces his own manga, YouTube videos and ‘Q&A’ sessions with the online hikikomori community.
Land of the hikikomoriI made the diagram in the middle after reading Michel Foucault’s 'Madness and Civilisation', which opened a discussion about the relationship between ‘normality’ and ‘exception’, exposing how institutions are double-edged swords. Here, the 5 characters in black represents the conflicts between an individual and societal rules, the 6th one asks could there be a new relationship between the hikikomori and the society. Can’ hikikomorification’ become a new cultural trend?

“Those who are powerful are filled with greed; and those who have no protectors are despised. Possessions bring many worries; in poverty there is sorrow. He who asks another’s help becomes his slave; he who nurtures others is fettered by affection. He who does not, appears deranged. Wherever one may live, whatever work one may do, is it possible even for a moment to find a haven for the body or peace for the mind? (…) Knowing myself and the world, I have no ambitions and do not mix in the world. I seek only tranquility; I rejoice in the absence of grief.”    

                  Summing up the hermit way of life           -Chōmei (Trans. Donald Keen)

Hikikomori, a result of the late 80s’ economic bubble burst in Japan, they are unable to fit in into society’s pursuit of usefulness, or fulfill expectations from their parents or grandparents and thus retreats into their sanctuaries, hidden from society.


collages, drawings, film stills
From left to right: Manga Cafe Pod, Pachinko Parlour, Bedroom
Central Tokyo MasterplanBy studying central Tokyo, I mapped out the existing land uses, potential sites and these sanctuaries, and with Japanese people’s cultural tolerance for vagueness being embedded in a variety of spatial settings, the city in fact encourages the society to become rather introverted.

3 main sanctuaries that the hikikomori frequently occupy: the bedrooms, manga cafe and arcades. The models are to further explore a design that is evolved around main hikikomori sanctuaries and the in-between spaces that lead the proposal to establish an alternative connection with the city, forming a counter-system that provide precious land of emancipation for the abandoned and hidden individuals, unleashing their savage potentials. 


drawing, physical model
The given architecture and specific form of representing it impose certain constraints, which help me to focus on what is important and liberate the savage potential of my research. This archival research of forms, narratives and rituals composes the ground of my design project.
Metaphorical City The ideas explored with the cast models were then translated into the design exercise at the beginning of term two, with ADS 9, where we created an ‘abstracted city’ composed of a series of objects, using coffee cast in concrete. (In collaboration with Izzy Farquharson and Wiktoria Jarosz)
Shin-Shibaura House“Now think: what conditions would give you no natural predators?” “Well, isolation, for one thing. Somewhere no hunter could get to.” -Haruki Murakami, 'Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World'
StoryboardThis little ‘manga strip’ is a storyboard that indicates how I transformed the given architectural spaces in hikikomori’s favour based on their current rituals.

How can architecture help the hikikomori find their selves, build their own community, and set their own social values? What will this place of celebration, this place where the suppressed can declare their independence as a unique and equally visible force look like? This is reflected in the term 2 exercise where I analysed and reoccupied the Shibaura House by Kazuyo Sejima under the archetype, ‘urban villa’. 

Ungers regards the ‘urban villa’ as a kind of ‘hybrid of city and countryside’; a model that could generate an ideal compromise between the respective advantages of individual houses and the collective apartment building.

He believed that the ‘urban villa’ was capable of acquiring the qualities expressed in the 19th c. Villa, those which modern housing failed to provide, such as individual character and a sense of place. The concept represents a full spectrum of types, all of which can be found in the city.

Shibaura House is a co-working community centre located within a business district in Tokyo. Over the past decade the building progressed and shifted towards educational, recreational, performative, and commercial uses.

The building’s main characteristics include a simple grid format layout, domesticity, high transparency and ambiguous boundaries. The spatial flexibility and adaptability result in the progressive colonisation of the interior to occur.

This project seeks new adaptive and improved ways of embedding these elements further to favour the hikikomori community, establishing their presence and voice within the urban landscape.


drawing, physical model
Street view in contextTogether the hikikomori will form a new society that they prefer to be a part of. In a way the design is not only a place for the hikikomori, but also a new archetype for the society to come.
Axonometric view in context
Main entrance, street view
Tower in context
Unfolded elevation + GF plan
Section AA'

After the Shibaura House, the next site is the Nakagin Capsule Tower which is now being demolished due to funding and maintenance failures. Loaded with Japan's postwar revival and the peak of technological madness, this gap between the Japanese Utopian dreams of the future during the 70s vs the reality of life in the 21st century is strongly felt here, which perfectly sets up the undertone of this bittersweet irony that is my ‘hikikomori tower’. By creating spaces of autonomy and individual identity, the new hikikomori tower will be an evolved version of the old tower that prize individualism over collectivism, reflecting societal diversity in the urban landscape. 

The Nakagin Capsule Tower realizes the ideas of 'exchangeability' as the prototype of sustainable architecture. My aim is to redefine the concept of metabolism in a society of the hikikomori, creating another prototype that establishes 4 key relationships:

  • relationship with the site as a cultural place
  • organisation of the subject in the relationship between space, form, time and collective rituals
  • relationship with the city and its internal organisation
  • relationship with the existing, possibility of transformation

Regarding the technical details, it won’t be completely under control, but more about showing a story, movements, and moments. The building only reveals a fraction of what is happening inside, the rest is just a formal expression, a performance of the architecture.


drawing, digital visualisation
Hikikomori 0Sayaka chan, 19, left school and just settled down here a week ago, she is still moving her stuff over from her old bedroom including her cat Coco who is already here and her mum who lives on the top floor temporarily.
Hikikomori 02Minami chan, 26, who has lived here for over a year now. She has always been a hoarder and has an astonishing collection of limited-edition possessions that a lot of other hikikomori would be jealous of…
Hikikomori 0Haru kun, 35, an antisocial but enthusiastic mechanic who would rather be around robots than with people. He has spent over a month here now at the tower. Pursuing his passion on being the first to create the world’s most advanced android girlfriend. Lately he grows fond of working here, undisturbed by the outside world.
Hikikomori 04Genta kun, 24, lives nearby, has just graduated, feeling a lot of pressure right now and starting to become anti-social. He encountered the tower by chance during a grocery trip, and saw a glimpse of the life inside, including the hikikomori market and the gaming arena. He thought ‘maybe it isn’t too bad to become a hikikomori and live here for a bit until I figure out what to do with myself...
Underground Gaming Arena
Gaming Arena, close up
Manga Cafe
A concept mapThe conceptual map along with the hikikomori manual – a user’s guide that I provide will help the new comers navigate the building the way they want, and based on the type of hikikomori they are they will use the building differently.
level connections, physical modelElements from a hikikomori’s bedroom are amplified and applied in other frequently used spaces, challenging conventional architectural components such as a window or a door. The middle section of the framework are mainly level connections to increase access routes, encouraging non-forced encounters. Instant walls, curtains, Shoji screens, as well as emergency hiding spots, are available on each floor.
Living unit, physical model, close up


digital visualisation, physical model