Narrow Buildings in Japan and Around the World

Narrow-minded architecture can be brilliant, indeed

If you looked closely at high-res photographs of Tokyo in our recent article, you may have noticed a few buildings that are apparently functional, housing either a business or a residence, but are extremely slim - sometimes not more than a meter in width. We got intrigued with this way of squeezing the most use out of every square foot, and decided to look at other examples in Japan and around the world.

1. Ramen shop in Sangenjaya, Tokyo, photo via -- 2. Sandwiched between the highway and the rice paddy, city of Kochi, thinnest part 30 cm! maximum thickness 1.5m, via -- 3. Or just camouflage it with ivy, via

In Robert A. Heinlein's short story "—And He Built a Crooked House—" rogue architect Quintus Teal builds a cross-shaped house that, because of a classic Los Angeles earthquake collapses not into 3 dimensional rubble but instead into a four-dimensional tesseract.

While we've yet to see any buildings with extra-rooms that cross space and time there are plenty of other houses out there that certainly look like they do.

4. Single Family House in Tokyo by F.O.B.A (Katsu Umebayashi with Kazuo Kobayashi) - 3 m wide and 20 m long, via

Some call them "Godzilla's Dominoes", others "Pancake Houses"

The designers and builders have had a myriad of reasons for their creations' remarkable lack of the dimension we call width -- not a lot of room, not a lot of money, not a lot of sanity -- but the one thing all these crazy houses have in common (beyond a lack of closet space) is their eye-catching just-plain-weirdness. Tokyo, particularly, has a long tradition of squeezing as much as possible into as little space as available. A lot only a few dozen feet wide but fifty or so long left to go fallow? Not in Japan. Look at the first image below - a definition of cute and cozy...

5. Tokyo small building, photo by Alistair
6. One of Osaka's "pancake houses", photo by M. Terada

7. unknown location, photo by Hinabori
8. Kannai apartments, photo via

9. Tokyo, photo by whooba
10. Hamamatsucho, Tokyo; photo by Becca Dorstek

11. Very thin wall-house in Nagasaki, photo via
12. unknown, photo by nao

Another view of this incredibly thin house in Nagasaki:

13. See the map here, photos via

14-15. Osaka, photos by M. Terada

16. Minato-ku, Tokyo, photos via

A Lack of Dimension We Call Width

Just take a look at these exceptionally lovely, and surrealistically narrow buildings. Some of them, sure, look like they were shoehorned into whatever empty space was available -- but others look less like seizing every opportunity, and inch of land, and more like jewels of design and elegance ... if a bit too thin.

17. "Pancake House" in Osaka, photo by M. Terada -- 18. Tokyo, photo by Alistair

19. unknown, photo via -- 20. Not bigger than stacked rolls of toilet paper: Setagaya-ku, Tokyo, via

21. Roppongi, photo by VinceHuang -- 22. Tokyo, photo by Marcel Feldmar

23, Tokyo "tombstone building", photos via Tokyo Times

24. unknown, photo via -- 25. Shibuya, photo via

26. imagine entering that door and squeezing into the building, photo via
27. Shinjuku "tombstone" building, photo via

28. Tokyo, photo via -- 29. Tokyo again, photo via

"Wedge House" by Shuhei Endo, photos via

30. Inside the modern thin masterpiece by Shuhei Endo, photo via
31. "C-House", Higashi Kurume City, Tokyo, photo by Ano Daici

32. Ebisu, Tokyo, photo via -- 33. Tokyo, photo by Ian Muttoo

Fold it into the other dimension, or take off into space

When you need to "park" your house on a thinnest strip of land imaginable, consider the design by Atelier Tekuto company, bearing a humble name "A House in Tokyo". It is more of the cathedral, a spiritual experience, especially warmly illuminated at night:

It is a "squeezable" structure, which extends a ladder for the entry like some fantastic spaceship...

34. images credit: Atelier Tekuto

"Skinny Living" Around the World

One of my favorites - and what I hear is the world's narrowest (1 meter wide by 10 meters tall) -- is Helenita Queiroz Grave Minho's place in Madre de Deus (translated as "Mother of God!..") (more info). If you ever happen to find yourself in Brazil you should definitely walk by and check it out. But be careful, at only six feet wide you just might miss it. What's remarkable about her creation isn't just the bizarre dimensions but how she's worked real magic into making it an actual, functional, and quite elegant home -- truly the sign of a great architect if ever there was one.

35. photos by Ed Ferreira/AE

Across the globe, in London, there's another slip of a real estate: at about nine feet wide in front it's almost a mansion compared with Helenita Queiroz Grave Minho house in Brazil.

36. Silver House, London, photo by Boyarsky Murphy Architects
37. 5 feet at its narrowest, and 10 feet at its widest, and was sold for nearly a million dollars.

Of course, New York City density provides a few skinny examples (besides a well-known Flat Iron building): here is one neatly sandwiched between two skyscrapers:

38. West 46th Street between 5th and 6th, photos by NY Scout

Not that Europe has somehow escaped the race to slim-down their real estate. If you travel to the wonderful city of Amsterdam, for instance, you'll see almost a plethora of narrow apartments and houses. The why being like that in Tokyo: without a lot of usage land the canal-hugging Amsterdam residents had to cram as many people into what little space they had ... even if they have to step outside to change their minds. One of the narrowest buildings in the world is located in Amsterdam, at Singel number 7 (more info)

39. photos via

"The tiny house is only one meter wide and not much wider than its front door. The people who live here must be on a never-ending diet... Admittedly, this is the back of the house; the front is quite a bit wider." Even the light fixture on the ceiling is almost as wide as the building itself:

40. photo by stepcire

Oude Hoogstraat 22, Amsterdam (left) and on the right - Kloveniersburgwal, 26 (the owners turned it into a museum):

41. photo by Robert English -- 42. photo by Saskia

Kloveniersburgwal, 26 is also called "Trippen House", or ‘The House of Mr. Trip’s coachman’. "Legend has it that Mr. Trip’s coachman exclaimed: 'Oh my, I would be happy if I had a house that was only as wide as the front door of my master’s house.' Mr. Trip overheard him and made sure that his wish came true."

Try to haul up furniture up these incredibly narrow stairways (on the right is yet another "narrowest" house in Amsterdam) -

43. images via 1, 2

Across the channel and up into the cold gray loveliness of Great Cumbrae, Scotland is what is considered to be the thinnest house in Great Britain ("The Wedge" in Millport) with an face just shy of 47 inches. 'Cozy' and 'intimate' would best describe the place -- and 'claustrophobic' and 'confining' being the worst.

44. The Wedge was on the market for £27,000 - photos via 1, 2

Other very narrow buildings can be found in Boston (left image) and Cologne, Germany, architects Brandlhuber & Kniess (right) -

45. image via -- 46. image via

You're Building It Wrong

So what happened here?.. maybe these people got tired of living in a narrow cramped house and decided to expand a little? or do they simply have a very wide bed on the second floor? -

47. photo by Kristov Krusjev

Another really miserable example... they should cover it with something like this (see right image), or chop it into bricks already.

48. unknown location, image via
49. Crown fountain at Millennium park in Chicago, photo via

As the world's population grows and land becomes more and more scarce, having a place to call your own becomes a very special thing when many have nothing but the dirt between their toes and the storm clouds up above. Who knows, "skinny living" in narrow houses just might become the way of the future.


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