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The Rest Hut: Pavilion at Kamiichi, Japan by Peter Salter

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A calming interior with a ‘serene ambience akin to traditional Japanese houses and temples’

This little Japanese rest hut is perfectly attuned to its context, through both careful siting and the way in which it frames views out to the landscape beyond.

Peter Salter’s work has always been concerned with the expressive use of materials in direct response to the genius loci, tuning in to a site’s every texture, contour and geometrical form. For this little pavilion at Kamiichi, in the central Japanese prefecture of Toyama, Salter has emphasised physical integration with its context through a favourite device of viewing and looping’. Following in the tradition of English country houses, the building is first seen within its landscape setting from a distance. One is made to circumnavigate the building, catching only occasional glimpses, before being allowed to draw near.

The ‘viewing and looping’ strategy is also central to understanding the building from within. The primary purpose of the ‘resting-place’ is so frame views of the meltwater river and surrounding mountains in the Japanese tradition of ‘borrowed landscape’, in which the viewer is seen to become part of the landscape. To this end the shell is largely imperforate, with subdued daylight filtering through bamboo screens and a small number of carefully detailed openings. While striking, the darkness of the interior is calming rather than threatening, its serene ambience akin to traditional Japanese houses and temples.

The Japanese climate is one of extremes, and vernacular architecture has generally shown a greater fear of summer heat than winter cold, with a characteristic lightweight construction to provide shade without restricting ventilation. While the building shelters from the elements, it is neither fully enclosed (openings a re unglazed, the envelope uninsulated), nor heated. Peter Salter intends the pavilion to ‘warp and age with the seasons’. Snowfalls of 12m are not un common at Kamiichi, so the walls are designed to hold back considerable lateral loads. The convex form of the two imperforate flanks - ‘compression structures on edge’ - recall the hull of a boat: a suggestion of a protective ark, exposed to the snow-bearing winds carried up the valley from the sea, as well as a reference to a British architect’s lengthy voyages from his native land to a remote site.