Japanese studios Unemori Architects and Teco Architects have designed an amusement park-like style for health and child care centers: Kitakami Children Health & Support Center.
Hospital visits are never desired, and less so for children. The rooms are often designed and left cold and empty, without attractive, distracting accessories. Unlike typical centers, UtA (Unemori teco Associates, a joint venture between UNEMORI ARCHITECTS and teco) has developed a park-like style for the Kitakami Child Health and Support Center.
Instead of building a new complex, UtA / Unemori teco Associates converted the first two floors of an eight-story commercial building in downtown Kitakami in Iwate Prefecture, Japan, into an inventive health and child care complex with a total floor area of 4,000 sqm. They also refurbished the façade of the existing building, with a glass front and equipped it with a spacious entrance area with sliding doors, and integrated the health and childcare support facilities as well as a public meeting space.
“Transforming a commercial complex, created by rationality as in any city, into a place for multiple people is a new endeavor in Japan, and we designed it as a project that could be a model case in the future. be, “Hiroyuki Unemori said in an interview with ArchiExpo e-Magazine. “The project team, composed of civic experts and university professors involved in health and child education, was created by Kitakami City. We continued with the design in regular discussions with the project team. ”
The commercial building dates back to 1999 and while not historically interesting, it is an example of how the redesign of existing structures is economically and environmentally smart. The conversion emphasizes the collaborators’ architectural competence for sensitive redevelopments of existing buildings and the reuse of scarce space in the city. The two lower floors of the existing building provide a rectangular space and were exploited entirely for the conversion. The new complex is structured around a central, open space, with softly undulating floors and ceilings, as well as a facade with large windows and an entrance area.
“The challenge was not only to develop a building for people involved in health and child care, but also to create an open space that would be equally accessible to other residents of the city and would provide a meeting place. We deconstructed the existing rectangular grille with soft wavy floors and ceilings that overlap the solid structure of the room. This creates a shift and softness in the space. In addition, for the spacious space created under the undulating ceiling, we have designed a number of seating areas with different textures and seating heights that divide and make the space accessible due to their human scale, ”Hiroyuki Unemori continued.
UtA / Unemori teco Associates has structured the space around a central multipurpose indoor plaza, an open space in the middle of the first floor that is accessible to the public and thus connects the city outside with the facility. The high-ceilinged plaza consists of an atrium, a café and a reception desk and serves as an entrance and waiting area to the surrounding rooms with various functions such as a facility for medical examinations, an indoor playground, an exhibition room , a consulting room as well as an office area. By surpassing the building typology of a child care center, a number of seating areas with different textures and seat heights have been added as a public meeting point in the foyer.
To go beyond the building’s child care center typology, the foyer features a variety of seating areas of different textures and seat heights installed as public gathering points. The retail buildings were composed of simple rectangular gratings, which Uta / Unemori Teco Associates rebuilt and created playful undulating ceilings and floors. The wavy shapes provided an interesting, unsurpassed flooring experience to the play area, and, as the ceiling, provided safe clearance to the healthcare vehicles, leaving ample channel space above. The ceiling is illuminated over the entire surface, creating a shadow and light play that gives depth to the composition.
“We wanted to create a space like an outdoor park without artificial lighting by taking in natural light into the wavy translucent ceiling, but it was difficult to take in and disperse the natural light.”
The architects reflect the waves in the ceiling and floors to the outside of the complex, creating an impressive overhang to the facade. As the exterior walls previously had few or no openings, UTA / Unemori Teco Associates surrounded the structure with large glass windows and sliding doors to allow a view of the interior from the outside, thus enhancing the building’s open nature and its strengthen relationship with the city. .
Previously, UNEmori architects created an earthquake-resistant community center in Kitakami, part of the rebirth in the town, just like a house in the city of Takaoka built on stilts. The 4,000-square-foot space includes general health care and child care counseling services and is also the public meeting space of Kitakami town. Uta / Unemori Teco Associates structured the space around an inner, multipurpose central plaza, a publicly accessible space in the middle of the ground floor, thus connecting the city outside with the facility.
“Japanese cities are maturing and we think renovations like this project will continue to increase. Renovation like this project is a creation that combines the old with the new, and I saw it as a great potential. I also think that a space to which anyone has free access and can spend their time like this, that is, architecture that allows the existence of others, is very important in an inclusive society that recognizes contemporary diversity. ”
Architecture and furniture: UtA / Unemori Teco Associates
Structural engineers: Design Office MOMI
Mechanical engineers: ZO consulting engineers
Drawing design: Nippon Design Center Inc. Irobe Design Institute
Textile design: Speaking of Curtains
General contractors: Hazama Ando Corporation, Obara Construction Joint Venture Group
Area: 14216 m²
Photos: Kai Nakamura
The latest news: Sukagawa Community Center and BASIS
UNEMORI Architects has also partnered with teco to create a new shared office space called BASE where the two firms will set up camp. The renovation project involves a building built in 1964 in Asakusabashi, a district where wholesale businesses specializing in leather and decorative materials are concentrated. They question the importance of coming together and working together in the era of coronavirus and the kind of space needed for today’s era. Through a competition, the two firms decided to allow people to circulate freely and activate the entire building by using four floors as common areas, accommodating a meeting room, kitchen and toilet, while each of the two offices has its own base of operations separately maintained on the remaining floors.
“It was not possible to create an atrium over the floors, because it was a building made of reinforced concrete for rent and also due to seismic performance issues. That is why we have given unique space to each space while clearly defining the concept of each floor, ”as stated in a press release.
They designed the first floor as an open-air site in the city to actively participate in community events, including the Torigoe Shrine Festival. The second floor houses a naturally ventilated garden where the floors along the perimeter are waterproof and finished with large tiles. Teco is based on the third floor and UNEMORI Architects on the fourth. The fifth floor reveals a library, and the sixth floor is an outside deck with a toilet covered with a tent.
UNEMORI Architects has partnered with Ishimoto Architectural & Engineering Firm on the Sukagawa Community Center. This multi-purpose complex built in Sukagawa City, Fukushima Prefecture, is part of a reconstruction project in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake. The aim was to regain the lost vitality of the city and restore civic interaction by creating an activity base with multiple functions, including a library that offers a lifelong learning program, childcare support, museum among others in the center of the city that seriously damaged by the earthquake. Floor slabs were divided into small sections, stacked to form an incremental setback on the site overlooking a historic main street, while much attention was paid not to distract the neighboring houses.
Many terraces resulting from the floor setbacks provide places where people can participate in various activities as they look out over the city, and the void created on the inside connects each floor partially and visually. The first floor, which serves as the main entrance to the facility, is an inclined space that connects the 2.5 meter height difference of the site, where a waiting area, cafe and event space are provided in the open atmosphere that is seamlessly connected to the hilly city of Sukagawa.
“Through a series of civic workshops, we aimed to create an organic architecture that transcends functional boundaries. We created several spaces for people to stay in, including a bright living area, a quiet reading corner, a three-dimensional play area, a space under the eaves like an engawa (a wooden porch along the sides of a traditional Japanese home ) among others, and place books throughout the facility. The upper floors are connected by gentle slopes and stairs, and you can walk through the entire building as if you were walking through the city, ”as stated in a press release.