by Jerry ElengicalFeb 15, 2023
Hiroshi Nakamura & NAP has completed the Care House of the Wind Chimneys, a subliminal structure that embraces soft energy and healing, growing mellow as part of a leafy district of Kunigami, in Okinawa, Japan. The wellness house seeks to care for children with intractable and terminal illnesses as well as their families who face difficulties travelling for treatments, to help them unwind, rest and recharge from their daily lives. The client is a non-profitable organisation called Dream for Children with Intractable Diseases and Their Families, which supports children with critical diseases and their families from all over Japan.
“Because many families will come prepared that it may be their last trip together, the client desired a place where children can be children and parents to be as parents, instead of an austere facility that treats children as patients, and helps deepen family connections. Should the child eventually pass away, it will be a place where they found some respite. They wanted to give children who have only known the insides of a hospital or house, a chance to experience the outside world and requested us to design a place where the family can revisit and spend time with their memories, even if the child passes away one day,” the architects share. The reinforced concrete architecture also aims to educate people and harbour deeper compassion and kindness for others.
The earth-toned, two-story building rests quaint near the ocean and enjoys a picturesque verdant landscape stretching around it, as is typical in Okinawa. When designing, Hiroshi Nakamura & NAP took special care to imagine the space through the eyes of the bedridden children, who spend most of their time gazing at the ceiling above or out from windows. Considering their ergonomics, their eye levels and body sizes, low entrances and ceilings were incorporated for the healthcare architecture, along with sliding glass doors for the little ones to enjoy the scenery outside, and experience the prevalent, soothing wind, even when lying on their sides.
However, what makes the care house distinct and directs its moniker are the myriad eight metre deep wind chimneys with glassless skylights that help naturally illuminate the palliative care house, and are visible through and through from the inside while lying down. With a 1.8m diameter, the chimneys sprout from the ceiling to channel ocean breeze from high up during the day, and during the night, draw cool air from the shade of the north garden by creating buoyancy-driven ventilation, assisted by the low sweeping windows of the volume.
A metal staircase from the mound like garden patch near the entrance reaches the accessible, walkable roof of the care house, which also unfurls with the local fauna growing from it, with thin black railings installed for safety on its perimeter. From here, one can climb the tall chimneys from the outside, stepping onto metal rungs installed on one of its sides and access rectangular, openable windows placed on its apexes. A round bench in the centre of the rooftop garden boasts of a 360-degree panoramic view of the blue ocean, town, and sugarcane fields that stretch leisurely as far as the eye can see.
"For children with physical disabilities, the wind carries a lot of information like the ocean breeze blowing through the pine grove, the singing of insects and birds, the fragrance of indigenous flowers, the humid scent of the tide and rain. We envisioned that this "scenery of wind" (in Japanese, the word “wind” consists of two letters - wind and scenery) would connect children with Okinawa’s pleasant environment,” shares Hiroshi Nakamura, principal architect of the firm headquartered in Tokyo, Japan.
A pathway reminiscent of those stretching in anime films winds and pools into the structure, where a tranquil groundwater basin lies upon entry. “We studied wind direction frequency statistics by the Japan Meteorological Agency and onsite survey, and placed the courtyard of water based on the direction of the wind that blows upward from the ocean and river below the cliff during the afternoon and downward from the mountains at night. The cool wind blows through the water basin in the centre, induced by the temperature difference with the periphery of the courtyard,” explains Nakamura.
The rain and wind enter unabashed through the skylights, and so do the sun and clouds, transitioning throughout the day into the introspective and nourishing interior design. Austere, unadorned benches, few in number, sit along the walls of this space, and one resting on them can witness the light spilling through the skylight to reflect on the water, in turn, forming reverie ripples on the carved ceiling, blazing and quivering tenderly. “We call this a “flame lit in the heart” and perceive it as an encouragement for the families,” shares the design team. “The centripetal water courtyard and the centrifugal rooftop garden—we prepared the contrasting conduct of static and dynamic in the spaces,” they continue.
The stairs outside are designed for easy movement for the staff as well as parents to support a wheelchair from both sides. According to the firm, stairs, generally considered to be barrier elements for the disabled and sick, can also signify something positive and trigger compassionate feelings of wanting to help and be kinder to others. The client shares the same ethos and chips in, “Barrier-free designs protect their freedom and dignity, but we cannot eliminate all barriers. Rather, what is needed is to notice physical and mental barriers that exist for all of us, and understand and help each other. The barriers that prompt this, are fine to be here.”
The sober, peaceful and largely bare interior design witnesses a polygonal plan, opening up the spaces of the care house equally to its surroundings, with all rooms facing outward, all done in an earthy colour palette to reflect its skin plastered with red earth colour to match the site's natural soil on the site, guided by the landscape regulations of Okinawa. The simplicity is also reflective of Japanese architecture at large, which champions strong aesthetic unity and ingenious functionality as a common theme.
A communal bath as well as the kitchen, living and dining area spill into the garden with gentle mounds and flowers, and enjoys an abundance of natural light. This chartered bath is rare in Okinawa, and is large enough for a whole family to comfortably bathe and relax in. “The bathwater, in which Okinawan speciality "getto" (shell ginger) floats, is known for its antibacterial effects and relaxing effects. The sash can be opened to enjoy the borrowed scenery. This is a great place to relax and unwind after a long day. Additionally, there is an assistive space to make it easier for parents and staff to support their child,” shares the firm.
In contrast, four compact guestrooms with tatami mats have a duskier, quieter setting, to inculcate an atmosphere of rest and therapeutic contemplation for the children who tire easily.
The soothing material and colour palette help centre the users, sans vivid colours and loud furniture and ornamentation, and opting instead, for a more stripped-back aesthetic that makes use of only the bare essentials to shine. This, along with the beautiful green garden surrounding the house makes possible to walk the earth with bare feet, gently assisting the healing and sangfroid with blooming flowers and the open skies for company.
The spaces and doorways of the Care House of the Wind Chimneys designed according to the small bodies of children may pose an inconvenience for adults and the able-bodied – contrastingly, however, it serves a larger, more inclusive purpose of educating said persons practically – “we experimented with this approach with a belief that imagining and merging with the physicality of others would serve as a foundation of a barrier-free, kinder society. Through such “practice of behaviour,” we aim for this place to provide care for the society itself that we are part of,” the Japanese architects say.
Name: Care House of the Wind Chimneys
Location: 3537-2 Maeda Onna-son, Kunigami-gun, Okinawa, Japan
Area: 1,200 sqm (Site), 318 sqm (Total floor area)
Year of completion: 2020
Architect: Hiroshi Nakamura & NAP
Constructor: Asahi Kensetsu