Earthworks Center

Earthworks Center in Hiroshima, Japan by Archipro Architects, 2002
The Haizuka Dam near Hiroshima, Japan is currently under construction, with completion expected in 2005. Although research on the project began in 1965, new towns needed to be built to house the displaced residents of Soryo, Kisa and Mirasaka, towns soon to be underwater once the dam is complete. Given the additional time and the enormous scale of the undertaking, the Haizuka Earthworks Projects were created in 1994 to "minimize the damage to the environment by incorporating ideas which involve ecological, biological and human resources." Members include artists, architects, engineers and scientists, all contributing their skills to a collaboration that involves the local government and residents. The Earthworks Center, designed by Archipro Architects, creates a base for the Projects, allowing the different parties a meeting place.

The Earthworks Projects include Summer Camp programs that invite artists and scientists from all over the world to "interpret and incorporate the local culture and nature into art activities." Called Art Sphere since 1998, these programs are predicated on the notion that "environment is a cultural inheritance" where environment includes artworks created by people. It is difficult to argue with this thinking, where care and understanding for the environment help to insure the places we live in aren't tarnished for future generations.

Archipro Architects created a 35 square meter meeting space on a site 150 times as large. The architects recognized the small structure would become an object in the larger site, so they clad the building in a translucent film of corrugated polycarbonate. Therefore it would stand as a strong, opaque object during the day, while at night the film would allow light from inside to seep out. Structurally, gate-shaped frames are arranged in a row and covered inside with plywood for lateral stability. Gaps were kept at the top and bottom to allow light into the meeting room at the floor and ceiling, while allowing light out in two bands at night, as mentioned.

In addition to creating an object suited to its location, the architects needed to provide maximum volume with minimal cost, not an uncommon task for any architect. By providing a simple structure and reversing the placement of structure and finish, a simple yet elegant building was created. Beyond the practical and aesthetic concerns, the almost meditative space is perfectly aligned with the thinking of the Earthworks Projects, where thoughtful decisions can be made on the outcome of humans intervening with nature.