Home-security AI cats; talking walls equipped with motion sensors; communal-living apartment blocks that promote harmonious relations; and outdoor living-room spaces powered by solar energy siphoned off hybrid cars — these previews of our future, currently on display at “House Vision 2,” sound like science fiction, but their realization is probably closer than you think.

A showcase of future homes designed by some of Japan’s most renowned architects, in collaboration with electronics, building supplies and other housing-related companies, “House Vision 2” is the second exhibition of its kind in Japan. Conceived by Kenya Hara — the art director of Muji and founder of the Hara Design Institute — the inaugural “House Vision” in 2013 involved seven full-scale buildings built on-site at a dedicated exhibition space. This year, it has brought together even more participants to create 12 installations, with Kengo Kuma, Jun Igarashi, Taiji Fujimori, Sou Fujimoto and Shigeru Ban among the list of leading architects.

The result is visually impressive, but at the event’s core is an engaging commentary on the social responsibility of architecture. Its buildings — whether they are strikingly minimalist and equipped with subtle high-tech conveniences, or coalescent with nature through open-plan spaces built in untreated lumber — have all been designed to offer solutions to contemporary social issues. These include Japan’s rural decline, the energy crisis and a particular focus on social disconnect between not just individuals but also generations

Here are a few of the show’s standouts.

Yoshiko-Sugi Cedar House by Airbnb and Go Hasegawa
Yoshiko-Sugi Cedar House by Airbnb and Go Hasegawa | MIO YAMADA (RIGHT)

Yoshiko-Sugi Cedar House

The concept of Airbnb already brings people together, but Go Hasegawa takes this a step further by creating Airbnb lodging that also serves as a community center. The first floor — featuring a long deck and an open-planned common room complete with a communal table, kitchenette and tableware — is designed for free public use, while Airbnb guests stay overnight in an expansive loft area. Since the loft can only be accessed by a central plank staircase, guests will find themselves mingling with different visitors on a regular basis.

Originally built in Yoshino, Nara Prefecture, and then dismantled to be shown at “House Vision 2,” the building and all its furnishings were constructed by local craftspeople, who used Yoshino sugi (Japanese cedar) for the exteriors and local hinoki (cypress) for the interiors. Already fully functional, it will be returned to Yoshino when the exhibition ends to be registered as an Airbnb.

Hiragana-no Spiral House by Panasonic and Yuko Nagayama
Hiragana-no Spiral House by Panasonic and Yuko Nagayama | HOUSE VISION 2

Hiragana-no Spiral House

While Hasegawa takes an analog approach to community ties, Yuko Nagayama’s collaboration with Panasonic looks to internet connectivity as a tool for bringing people together in a minimalist environment. Their conceptual Hiragana-no Spiral House visualizes a future in which IoT is so embedded in our lives that experiences and tasks will be possible without leaving home.

A circular construction of a single wall that spirals inward to create the shape of the hiragana letter “no,” the building contains nothing more than a small kitchen area and a central bathroom with an elevated bed space above it. The wall, which doubles as a giant, curved interactive screen, allows residents to not only monitor home security and communicate via social network systems but also watch live entertainment broadcasts and use other services, such as augmented reality shopping apps.

Some of the ideas seem a little far-fetched — like a mysterious set-up that somehow magically removes the pain out of laundry — but others, such as a roof-top “weathercat” that monitors the outside environment and nearby activity, and an animated pet cat that alerts residents of visitors, seem perfectly feasible in the near future.

Rental Space Tower by Daito Trust Construction and Sou Fujimoto.
Rental Space Tower by Daito Trust Construction and Sou Fujimoto. | HOUSE VISION 2

Rental Space Tower

Apartment living has also been re-assessed. Sou Fujimoto and Daito Trust Construction, a lease management and trust business, have conceived a community-focused structure that addresses Japan’s aging population and the decline of traditional family ties. The tower block limits personal space to maximize all potential shared spaces, such as the kitchen, bathroom, garden and lounge areas. At just 7-16 square meters, the bedrooms are, in fact, the smallest rooms — simply a place to sleep with a compact storage unit and en-suite toilet. This may sound a lot like a commune — and yes, one of the goals is to get different generations to interact with each other — but Fujimoto’s vision also emphasizes the fact that shared areas and furnishings can lessen the overall cost for individuals while allowing for much higher-end facilities. The bathroom, for example, has a large luxury tub, the kitchen is equipped with the latest mod cons and there is even room for a home theater and a library.

All of these spaces are divided into blocks, which are stacked together to create a mini neighborhood that includes nooks for small gardens, alcoves in corridors to relax in and guest rooms for visitors.

Inside-out / Furniture-room by Toto, YKK AP, Jun Igarashi and Taiji Fujimori
Inside-out / Furniture-room by Toto, YKK AP, Jun Igarashi and Taiji Fujimori | HOUSE VISION 2

“House Vision 2” has many other surprising living ideas, not least Jun Igarashi and Taiji Fujimori’s Inside-out / Furniture-room, where windows from a central living space look into other rooms, rather than outside. But while it’s easy to be distracted by visual spectacle, modest installations such as Shigeru Ban and Lixil’s Open House with Condensed Core also showcase innovative architectural materials and inventions. Ban’s beamless structure is supported by lightweight but sturdy PHP panels — honeycomb cardboard sandwiched between plywood — and houses Lixil’s Life Core, which combines all the essential living needs — the toilet, bathroom and kitchen — into an independent and mobile unit.

Open House with Condensed Core by Lixil and Shigeru Ban
Open House with Condensed Core by Lixil and Shigeru Ban | HOUSE VISION 2

It’s no accident that the Open House with Condensed Core, which is also covered in a tarpaulin-like fabric instead of a tiled roof, is reminiscent of Ban’s efforts to provide inexpensive temporary housing in disaster areas.

After the devastation of the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, many architects questioned the role of modern architecture as they worked on solutions to aid Japan’s continuing reconstruction efforts. Judging by the innovative ideas presented at “House Vision 2,” which continues that shift in architectural practices, Japan may still be recovering from a large-scale disaster, but the future looks quite bright.

“House Vision 2” runs until Aug. 28; open daily 11 a.m.-8 p.m. ¥1,800 (¥1,500 in advance). For more information, visit house-vision.jp.

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