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Shima Kitchen by Atelier Ryo Abe, Teshima Island, Japan

Emerging Architecture Awards 2010: Winner

Creatively cannibalising an old house and its surroundings in a Japanese island village, Shima Kitchen is a modest yet exemplary renovation project to establish a new venue for arts performances and dining. It’s set on Teshima, a rural island in the Seto Inland Sea of western Japan, which lies next to the famous art tourism island of Naoshima.

Attracted by its delightful spirit of rustic minimalism, the jury had no doubts about the skill and sensitivity of Ryo Abe’s scheme. The existing house was surrounded by plots of vacant land where other buildings had been demolished some time ago. An old warehouse, two persimmon trees, and some smaller fig trees remained. Abe’s project treads lightly around the site, adjusting, converting and inserting.

The house is remodelled as an open kitchen, the warehouse refitted as a small art gallery, and finally, the piece de resistance, a low canopy loops and sweeps around the trees unifying the various parts and creating an outdoor theatre. The form of the theatre is based on a traditional Japanese Noh style performance space, with its stage (butai), veranda (hashikake), and gallery (sajiki), but is also designed to host a variety of events, such as live music, modern performance art, folk dance and community festivals.

The delicate, undulating canopy is the key new element, its contours covered in thin, fire-charred wooden shingles, more traditionally used to clad the houses on Teshima. The shingles are attached loosely to a slim metal frame, so that they rustle and flutter slightly in the wind, like bird feathers. Though it has a wonderful lyricism, structure is admirably simple, using basic, local materials. Columns and main beams are made of 34 mm diameter steel water pipes, with 27 mm diameter pipes employed as sub-beams.

The canopy frame is a series of steel rods and the entire assemblage is anchored by a lightweight foundation system. The fluid form of the canopy was designed to flow from the existing house but then decrease in height and defer to neighbouring dwellings. In this way, although the roof is a prominent new addition, it merges seamlessly and naturally into the village landscape. Tactfully working with existing structures, basic construction techniques and traditional materials, Ryo Abe creates an intimate village gathering place that recalls the immemorial notion of being sheltered and enclosed under a glade of trees. ‘Structurally it’s very minimal’, commented juror Gurjit Matharoo. ‘It uses hardly any materials and it’s very light, and still creates a beautiful space.’.

Architects Atelier Ryo Abe, Tokyo
Project team Megumi Motouchi, Ryo Abe
Structural engineer Mitsuhiro Kanada
Photography Daichi Ano, Philippe O’Sullivan and Simona Castelli

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