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Airbnb builds community center in Japan as part of new innovation lab

Eyeing the world beyond vacation rentals

House Vision Tokyo, a fascinating new exhibit on innovative housing solutions is well underway in the Japanese capital, and the only Western company invited to participate isn’t some hotshot architecture firm, but the short-term rental site Airbnb.

Working with local architect Go Hasegawa, Airbnb developed the "Yoshino-Sugi Cedar House," a double-pitched-roof community center that offers an upper loft for overnight travelers and an open ground floor living, kitchen, and dining space where locals can hold their own gatherings and host visitors.

As Co.Design reports, Cedar House is actually the first project completed as part of Samara, Airbnb’s spanking new innovation lab that will apply the company’s home-share insights in broader ways—say, the challenge of revitalizing a small, greying town. This inaugural project, for example, grew from an inspiring story coming out of the small Japanese town of Tsuyama Okayama, where an older woman’s Airbnb listing became popular enough for her to enlist other locals as tour guides and translators.

Once the exhibition wraps up on August 28, the house will be moved to a riverside site in the Nara prefecture town of Yoshino, where it will open to the public. The building will be maintained by locals and revenue from the bookings will be reinvested into the town. If all goes well, Airbnb may look into replicating the idea in other villages in Japan and beyond. Co-founder and Chief Product Officer Joe Gebbia tells Co.Design that they’ve already "gotten calls from people in the U.K., China, Korea, Spain, France, and Italy."

At a time when the tech world seems obsessed with reinventing cities through the biggest of data and most internet-connected of things, Airbnb’s first stab at urban planning—if we may call it that—comes off refreshingly practical.

Maybe the company that grew its business around real people and places knows that when it comes to transforming the built environment, designing something that can actually be built easily is pretty valuable in itself.