Thursday Feature: Hiroshi Sambuichi [a new generation of japanese architects]

The Hiroshima-based architect Hiroshi Sambuichi – like his Tokyo contemporaries Fujimoto and Ishigami – contemplates the confluence between nature and architecture. However, the actual articulation of his architecture is markedly different. Born in 1968, Sambuichi conceives of architecture like the “details of the earth”. His rigorous design process entails extensive (read: approximately a year-long) climate and topographical surveys of each site before embarking on the design proper. This culminates in buildings that meld into the landscape and draw on natural energy sources. His is essentially an indigenous and sustainable architecture, where the beauty of its poetics and performance are derived from the “circulating system of nature and local landscape”.

A selection of his best works:

Rokko Shidare Observatory | Kobe, Japan | 2010

Perched on the top of Mount Rokko, the observatory is constructed almost entirely from hinoki wood and is powered by solar and wind energy. The structure is composed of hexagonal frames that are imprinted with images of leaves. The frames are designed to attract frost in winter. In summer, air is drawn in and goes into an ice room that cools the air down.

                                                                                                                                                          Images: akix626 @ Flickr

Base Valley House | Japan | 2009

The spectacular site of the house – perched at the edge of an expansive river valley plain – brought with it a harsh climate of strong winds. Instead of trying to fight or hide from the less-than-ideal conditions, Sambuichi sought to actually harness the winds while protecting the inhabitants.

He created a “wind street” through the building volume along the north-south axis, thus funnelling the air into the interior spaces. The bedrooms and a sunroom are placed beneath ground, where the natural warmth of the earth regulates the temperature. The living and dining spaces are on ground level, covered with a sloped glazed roof.

The architecture addresses as well as takes advantage of the seasonal climate changes to result in a naturally ventilated environment. In summer, the underground sun room collects the valley wind to cool the bedrooms; in winter, the glazed roof stores solar heat for warmth. But Sambuichi’s masterstroke is in showing how such an energy efficient architectural “machine” can be expressed so naturally and poetically.


Inujima Art Project | Inujima, Japan | 2008

Inujima is a small, isolated island in Japan’s Seto Inland Sea. Characterised by the raw imagery of the smokestacks and ruins of a copper refinery abandoned since 1919, it was purchased by the tycoon Soichiro Fukutake. His intention was to rehabilitate the site into a museum that would have minimal environmental impact. Sambuichi was commissioned to design the building; the artist Yukinori Yanagi was tasked to create its permanent installations.

Sambuichi perceived the new museum to be part of the natural environment and understanding the earth’s natural cycles. To him, the locally available materials and existing structures were the regenerative resources with which to create the museum. Thus he built within the refinery’s ruins, between the tallest smokestack and the remains of the brick wall structure that spread outwards to the sea. Visually, the striking smokestack became the marker of the partially-subterranean building.

Environmentally, the old structure could nevertheless still generate a chimney effect – drawing air in through an opening at the bottom and releasing it at the top – and thus forms part of the natural mechanism that modulates the interior temperature. The cool of the earth chills the 80m long steel-encased subterranean Earth Gallery; the sun heats up the glazed Sun Gallery. This is gradually filtered in the Energy Hall that serves as a semi-permeable buffer space between the two “climates” and thus controls the airflow.

Essentially this first phase of the project is a prolific exploration into regenerating places through a sensitive interpretation of site, heritage, architecture, art and ecology. We look forward to future phases of this Inujima project, where apparently there are plans to work with the Pritzer laureate Kazuyo Sejima.


References: Japan Architect, Wallpaper, Spoon and Tamago, Architecture of Consequence.