northern style housing competition entry · aomori lantern houses
In 2002, Stephanie Forsythe and Todd MacAllen won an international architecture competition for their design of a housing and community project in Aomori, Japan. The competition was judged by Tadao Ando and Jean Nouvel, and sponsored by the City of Aomori.
northern style housing competition entry · competition model
In the years following the competition, Forsythe and MacAllen (molo) worked closely with the City of Aomori making studies and designs that evolved the project from its original program of family apartment housing and community facilities to that of a unique cultural building inspired by the art, craft and the profound living spirit of Aomori’s Nebuta festival. The building is intended to be a house for the mythical Nebuta. Functionally its meant to elevate the art forms of Nebuta to new heights and to introduce them to more people in Japan and internationally.
early typology studies
The Nebuta festival is one of Japan’s largest festivals, drawing millions of people to Aomori, home of 300 000 people, every August The festival is a form of storytelling, where larger than life heroes, demons and animals from history and myth, come to life in luminous three dimensional forms created from paper and light. Through the year Nebuta artists design and draw new creations. In the final three months, the artists collaborate with teams of craftspeople to make the giant lanterns in wood, wire, paper and paint. For the first week of August each year, the Nebuta floats light up the night as they are paraded through the city streets of Aomori. Athletic teams of men and women animate the floats by pushing and pulling them, spinning them and lunging them toward onlookers.
Moving with the floats, hundreds of thousands of dancers jump and chant to the deep sounds of taiko drums and the music of bamboo flutes. Participants experience something deeply human yet primal in spirit as they are unified in an intense release of energy that happens during this ancient Japanese festival. There are several theories as to the festival’s origins, one being that it is intended to rouse the sleepy spirits of people from the heat of summer, to prepare for the Autumn harvest.
For the development and construction phases of the project, molo assembled a team that included: Yasuo Nakata of d/dt Architects, Frank la Rivière of Frank la Rivière Architects inc., Yoshiharu Kanebako of Kanebako Structural Engineers and PT Morimura & Associates Ltd mechanical/electrical engineers. The City of Aomori selected Kajima – Fujimoto – Kurahashi Construction JV as the principal contractor.
In March 2009 construction of this unique and sculptural building began on its waterfront site in Aomori City. Twelve meter tall vertical ribbons of steel encircle the building. At points they are swept aside at ground level to create openings for people to pass through. The ribbons are also individually twisted and angled to emphasize particular views and reflect coloured light into the building.
The use of red is influenced by the local lacquer ware and smoothly coats the steel in a very similar way. The steel ribbons are prefabricated in a factory then brought to the site, installed and given further shape using a multi-point connection system. In the age of computer fabrication none of this is digitally produced, but was designed through physical models and handmade by very skilled artisans.
Each ribbon is given subtle variation and each catches light in a slightly different way, creating differences in colour and a shifting pattern of light and shadow that changes through the day. Although there is variation between the ribbons, each ribbon is shaped to respond to the ribbons on either side, creating a varied yet unified, harmonious effect overall. This mysterious building enclosed by a ribbon screen houses the giant paper creatures within a shadowy dwelling shaped by arranging the volumes of ancillary rooms. Inside, the building is black. The shades vary by material and details are kept as simple as possible so that the building serves as a backdrop for the sculptural Nebuta artifacts. Natural light from the outside filters through layers of red and black screens into the space, creating an effect that can be experienced in an old Japanese house – beams of light piercing through dark shadows. Throughout the day, the light reflects changing shades of red from the exterior screen into the darkness.
photo by Iwan Baan
photo by Iwan Baan
photo by Iwan Baan