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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Modernism Prize 2012: Hizuchi Elementary School

On Tuesday evening I attended the lecture for the 2012 World Monuments Fund/Knoll Modernism Prize, given to the Architectural Consortium for Hizuchi Elementary School for their restoration of Hizuchi Elementary School in Hizuchi, Yawatahama City, Ehime Prefecture, on Shikoku Island, Japan. I had seen the press release last month, as well as a couple photos there and picked up on the Internet, but Tuesday night at MoMA was my first in-depth look at a building that was also a discovery for the jurors.

Hizuchi01.jpg
[Veranda of East and Middle Building | © Architectural Institute of Japan Shikoku Chapter/Photographer KITAMURA Toru]

The opening remarks of jury chairman Barry Bergdoll positioned the 2012 award in some contrast to the previous two recipients: Bierman Henket's and Wessel de Jonge's restoration of the Zonnestraal Sanatorium in Hilversum, the Netherlands (awarded 2010); and Brenne Gesellschaft von Architekten's restoration of the former ADGB Trade Union School in Bernau, Germany (awarded 2008). Those two buildings were known (if not extremely well-known) modern buildings, and therefore the awards "reintroduced the buildings to a larger audience."

Hizuchi03.jpg
[02 East, Middle, and West Buildings from the North | © Architectural Institute of Japan Shikoku Chapter/Photographer KITAMURA Toru]

Hizuchi Elementary School, on the other hand, was a "real discovery" for the jury, whom were not familiar with the building or its architect, Masatsune Matsumura. After the lecture I even consulted David Stewart's The Making of a Modern Japanese Architecture, where I figured there might be some mention, but he was nowhere to be found. Working as municipal architect for Yawatahama City at the time (the school was constructed from 1956 to 1958), the architect was considered one of the ten most influential architects in Japan—alongside Kenzo Tange and other familiar names—before embarking on a private practice. Yet outside Japan he was little known, as I'm sure municipal architects from other locales have rarely gained renown in a wider geography.

Hizuchi02.jpg
[East Building Second-Floor Stair (Classroom on Left, Corridor on Right) | © Architectural Institute of Japan Shikoku Chapter/Photographer KITAMURA Toru]

Following Bergdoll's remarks and the award presentation, historian and consortium member Yoshiaki Hanada gave a lecture on the school, the architect, and the restoration. He shared the above information about the architect's top-ten status, for example, and he boiled down the design and the restoration into numbered bullet points (noted below). At the end of the lecture, Hanada poetically summarized the project and its influence.

Hizuchi04.jpg
[Middle Building First-Floor Teachers’ Room and View of Stairs | © Architectural Institute of Japan Shikoku Chapter/Photographer KITAMURA Toru]

Important aspects of Matsumura's design, as articulated in Hanada's lecture:
1 - Cluster-style school with classroom and corridor separate.
2 - "Dual facade fenestration" (windows on opposite sides of classroom) achieved through internal "daylight gardens."
3 - Hybrid structural system of wood (columns and beams) and steel (cross bracing).
    Hizuchi05.jpg
    [Middle Building First-Floor Corridor in front of Teachers’ Room | © Architectural Institute of Japan Shikoku Chapter/Photographer KITAMURA Toru]
    4 - "Rich spatiality" that contemporary architecture lacks.
    5 - "Spatial embodiment of democratic thought in education" after World War II (stairs and overlook in first photo are illustrations of this).
    6 - "Original interpretation of Western modern architecture."
    Hizuchi06.jpg
    [Corridor Connecting Middle and West Buildings | © Architectural Institute of Japan Shikoku Chapter/Photographer KITAMURA Toru]

    Important considerations for restoration and addition of western wing, again as articulated by Hanada:
    1 - Restore whole building to original design, respecting its cultural value.
    2 - Bring in line with today's seismic codes.
    3 - Restore original classrooms into specific rooms (home ec, music, etc.).
    Hizuchi07.jpg
    [First-Floor Stairway in West Building | © Architectural Institute of Japan Shikoku Chapter/Photographer KITAMURA Toru]
    4 - Make wall at teacher's room more transparent (visible in fourth photo).
    5 - Create two classrooms in central building (previously offices).
    6 - Improve functional performance (plumbing, acoustics, etc.).
    7 - Build new west wing with four additional classrooms.
    Hizuchi08.jpg
    [Second-Floor Multi-Purpose Space in West Building | © Architectural Institute of Japan Shikoku Chapter/Photographer KITAMURA Toru]

    These last few photos show the addition designed by consortium member Kouichi Wada Kazutomi Takechi. The addition is sensitive to the original's structure, materiality, and circulation (the shallow stairs of the original are reiterated in the addition, for example), but it veers from it in terms of space—it opts for a radial plan rather than a linear one. As a whole the building is marvelous, particularly in the way daylight infuses every space, from the classrooms to the offices and the circulation. It looks like a fantastic environment for learning.

    Hizuchi09.jpg
    [Façade of the West Building | © Architectural Institute of Japan Shikoku Chapter/Photographer KITAMURA Toru]

    6 comments:

    1. Very nice and looks so wide. I really like the design so much, nice architectural... Thanks for the share...


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    2. Very nice,On the pictures it looks very interesting and functional, thank you for sharing with us ;)

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    3. Thank you for a nice post on a scheme which I would have never otherwise come across.

      The idea of creating transparency between the teachers and general student areas only aids in breaking down the divide that can sometimes be created between teachers and students. This is something which creates an undesirable environment in which to work in and is rife in schools throughout the uk.

      The internal environment created in this scheme seems very well lit in terms of natural light and the addition of 'daylight gardens' I can imagine as being a more than welcome feature. Greater interaction between the exterior and interior in a creative manner can improve the learning environment tenfold.

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    4. I would like to say thank you for your nice report. I am Yoshiaki Hanada, one of the members of Hizuchi consortium you mentioned. I found one mistake in your report. The name of the architect who designed additional West Buijding is not Kouichi Wada but Kazutomi Takechi who is the other member of the consortium. I would appreciate it if you could correct the name.

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      1. Mr. Hanada - Thanks for the correction. Looking at my notes again, I had Mr. Takechi noted as the architect of the addition. Looks like I erred when writing the piece. Sincerely, John.

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    5. Mr. Hill - Thank you for your quick correction!

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