Sheng Yan


Suburbia as Proxy for Soft Power Projection: A Case Study of the Washington Heights Dependents Housing Area, Tokyo (1945–1964), and the Evangelization of the Garden Suburb for Rebuilding Japan under American Occupation

Advised by Eve Blau

During the Allies’ occupation of Japan between 1945 and 1952, Japanese architectural and industrial design expertise was mobilized by the American leadership to provide for the housing needs of the occupying forces. The resulting residential compounds were known as Dependents Housing (DH) areas, and in terms of formal characteristics, replicated those that follow the Garden Suburb prototype in the United States. More than functioning as an enclave for an “average Western” setting of living, the archetypal DH, through various channels, was also tasked to evangelize the American suburban model as an exemplary solution to Japan’s own chronic shortage of housing and postwar rebuilding.

Focusing primarily on the example of “Washington Heights,” on land that is today Yoyogi Park in Shibuya, Tokyo, buttressed from primary and secondary findings on related precedents and contemporaneous promotive materials, this thesis will probe the role of the American suburb-like military dependent housing compound as a proxy for soft power projection: specifically, on how the sensibilities of the Garden Suburb adopted and normalized by interwar- and war-era defense-related housing projects in the American domestic context were imposed, (mis)translated, and advertised as material and cultural forces of influence under the stricture of occupation.

Aerial photograph of a suburban housing development and newspaper clippings in Japanese with photos showing family life and structures and interiors of the homes. A photo of a pair of women in stylish dress walking a dog appears in the foreground.

Two maps side by side showing Washington Heights Dependents Housing in 1945, and its footprint on 2009’s fabric.

Two maps showing the demolition of Washington Heights for the 1964 Olympics, and its replacements.

Diagram showing the disposition of Washington Heights’s agency according to “representation power.”