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Rites of passage: Yu Momoeda Architecture Office, Japan

Poetic sensibility married to a burgeoning ceremonial theme distinguish recent projects by Yu Momoeda Architecture Office 

Yu Momoeda Architecture Office has been shortlisted for the AR Emerging Architecture awards 2018

A year on from Yu Momoeda Architecture Office’s Agri Chapel in Nagasaki being shortlisted for these awards (AR November 2017), the practice’s recent projects continue to display a poetic sensibility, as well as a burgeoning ceremonial theme: following the wedding chapel, its two latest projects have both been funeral halls – one completed in February, and the second due next year. 

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The first of these, Four Funeral Houses, responds to a shift away from a tradition of funeral rites being performed at home, and moves towards ceremonies held in halls such as Momoeda’s. The building serves four families, at once separating the houses with passageways and holding them under a shared roof. Each of the houses is a self-contained system for funerary proceedings, with broad, bare halls backed by guest rooms, some of which feature traditional tatami-matted floors. All have been constructed using timber and cedar cladding, with covered alleyways running between the houses, spiralling out from a foyer that marks both centre of, and centrepiece for, the building. Here, the gabled roofs that cover each of the four houses converge above the intersecting passageways, leaving a void that appears to open to the heavens. The well of daylight summoned into this space is intended as an invitation to solitary prayer. 

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In this moment, the ritual sensitivity with which Momoeda’s practice composes the ceremonial spaces is abundantly clear. The meditative gesture almost relegates to the background the actual construction of the meeting between the four gables. In such a technically difficult marriage of competing geometries, his affinity for Japanese traditions of timber construction also shines. 

On his design methodology since Agri Chapel, Momoeda said, ‘I like abstract thinking; thinking philosophically or socially first, then translating it into architecture’. His second funeral hall is still under construction, but already stands as evidence of this desire to imbue his buildings with abstract meaning. 

Yu momoeda drawings

Yu momoeda drawings

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Named after the Japanese cherry blossom, the Sakura Passage Ceremony Hall has at its conceptual heart the annual custom of hanami, a spring celebration that accompanies the cherry bloom. Echoing the arcade of fabricated cherry trees across the road, the building consists of three long bays in a spatial presentation of a passage that is brought to bear with hanami’s cultural connotations of passage from konoyo (this world) to anoyo (the afterlife). Separated by a timber-frame, tree-like structure, these bays broaden in turn as they extend towards the cherry-tree passage – seen from the street, they create a rhythm that captures the arcade opposite and extends beyond their limits to the surrounding city. 

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The sakura hall’s timber-frame trees, reminiscent of Agri Chapel’s fractal forest, present quite a literal abstraction of their conceptual genesis, while another project, Momoeda’s Bottomless Window, exhibits a vivid condensation of the potential in his approach. Intended as an ‘experience device’, the window plays with a dislocated notion of engawa, which is the name given to the strips of flooring that run around a traditional Japanese house, outside the building’s skin but still under the deep eaves. For Momoeda they represent a habitable threshold, one that has disappeared in much of Japan’s architecture as construction has tended towards a globalised norm. As the Bottomless Window is extended inwards, the paper infills glow with diffuse light – capturing daylight in a massive lantern or at night, seen from outside, as a brightening series of concentric squares.

The distillation of the conceptual footing for this endangered element in Japanese architecture, and its re-presentation in a contemporary urban context, results in more than a singular experience – it is synecdochic of Momoeda’s whole practice. It points to the future, it is catalytic and rich with potential.

Architect: Yu Momoeda Architecture Office

Photographs: Yashiro Photo Office

This piece is featured in AR November issue on Emerging Architecture and the Netherlands – click here to purchase your copy today

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