The result of a collaboration between Takahashi Ippei and the local community, this school doubles as a new garden and social space for the town
A large number of reconstruction initiatives are still ongoing in the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami that devastated Tōhoku on the east coast of Japan. Carried out by individuals, local groups and architects, they form a panorama of resilience aimed at preserving a sense of local identity and social cohesion through thoughtful, small-scale moves. This particular project is for a public nursery school in Shichigahama, a coastal town which was badly damaged in the disaster as 10m high waves tore through it. Around 100 townspeople lost their lives and 1,000 houses were destroyed.
The new nursery school was the outcome of a collaborative design process between architect Takahashi Ippei and local people. ‘I wanted it to be a monument for reconstruction,’ he says, ‘evoking both unity and eternity.’
Organised around a large courtyard, the single-storey colonnaded structure has a modesty and generosity, creating a flexible armature for learning and play. Children populate the nursery both indoors and outdoors and the building becomes part of the landscape, generating and hosting a variety of experiences like a village in microcosm.
Though materials are simple and austere, the conspicuous exception is the polished, shimmering skin of stainless steel that envelops the outward-facing walls. The thin metal veneer alludes to the craft of byōbu, ornate Japanese folding screens, characterised by dazzling gold or silver grounds. At the front of the building a communal lounge offers people the opportunity to gather and socialise, so the nursery is more than just a school: it is also a new garden and social space for the town.