Junya Ishigami's semi-outdoor plaza in Japan emphasises on ways to spend time

The Plaza of Kanagawa Institute of Technology explores the process of passing time as a physical and mental experience, creating a bond between earth and sky.

by Shreeparna ChatterjeePublished on : Feb 15, 2021

In the winter of 2008, Japanese architecture studio Junya.Ishigami+Associates completed the Workshop building for Kanagawa Institute of Technology in Japan. In that same year, the project for creating a versatile semi-outdoor plaza began and reached its completion in 2020.

To understand what the word ‘versatile’ would mean in this university space, the studio looked at the diverse ways in which the students would be spending their time, particularly in their leisure period. There is a purposeful ambiguity in how the plaza can be used and it is this versatility that makes it a peaceful space to be in. “It is such a place where the centre of gravity is more about "how to spend" than "how to use”. When the emphasis is on how to use, the focus is on achieving the purpose, but when the emphasis is on how to spend, the emphasis is on physical experience over time, although there is a loose purpose,” says Junya Ishigami, the principal architect of the project.

The space can be for taking a nap, lying down to think, talking, sharing food with each other, or set up stalls during the institute's festivals to turn it into a market.

  • Top view of the Plaza during construction | Plaza of Kanagawa | Junya.Ishigami+Associates | STIRworld
    Top view of the Plaza during construction Image: Courtesy of Junya.Ishigami+Associates
  • People relaxing in the plaza | Plaza of Kanagawa | Junya.Ishigami+Associates | STIRworld
    People relaxing in the plaza Image: Courtesy of Junya.Ishigami+Associates

Given that the semi-outdoor setting was an important requirement for the location, it wasn’t enough to just provide a windswept area for the purpose of avoiding rain or sunlight while maintaining the existing environmental characteristics. The outdoor space in the university is surrounded by high school buildings, which give the space an artificial look and lacks diversity as a landscape. In order to tackle this dullness, the ‘‘soto’’ or the “outside’’ was taken into consideration, where half of the existing environmental characteristic were left untouched while some architectural elements were added to the other half.

  • The plaza and the university viewed from the outside | Plaza of Kanagawa | Junya.Ishigami+Associates | STIRworld
    The plaza and the university viewed from the outside Image: Courtesy of Junya.Ishigami+Associates
  • A large opening in the ceiling that lets the sunlight stream into the plaza | Plaza of Kanagawa | Junya.Ishigami+Associates | STIRworld
    A large opening in the ceiling that lets the sunlight stream into the plaza Image: Courtesy of Junya.Ishigami+Associates
  • An exterior view of the walls of the plaza | Plaza of Kanagawa | Junya.Ishigami+Associates | STIRworld
    An exterior view of the walls of the plaza Image: Courtesy of Junya.Ishigami+Associates

Inside the plaza, the plane is spread over the entire site and the height of the building has been kept as low as possible. This is advantageous to the plaza as it accounts for the existing height difference of two meters that is lower than other campus levels, aiming for a volume that becomes almost like a new ground integrated with the terrain. A large iron plate, which bends loosely to create a curved surface, is supported by a structure and hung on the four surrounding walls. With no pillars inside, a recessed floor surface parallels the curved surface above. The ceiling height has been set minimum with respect to the size of the plane. The roof has 59 openings and the low height of the ceiling suppresses the wraparound of light brightening only the perimeter of the opening and maintaining moderate darkness elsewhere.

  • The curved low ceiling of the plaza | Plaza of Kanagawa | Junya.Ishigami+Associates | STIRworld
    The curved low ceiling of the plaza Image: Courtesy of Junya.Ishigami+Associates
  • Exterior view of the 59 openings on the ceiling | Plaza of Kanagawa | Junya.Ishigami+Associates | STIRworld
    Exterior view of the 59 openings on the ceiling Image: Courtesy of Junya.Ishigami+Associates

“On a rainy day, a lot of raindrops from the opening create a pillar of rain inside, and a hazy landscape appears. You can feel the sound of rain echoing indoors and the raindrops in front of you. Changes in nature as a physical experience appear as a landscape,” mentions Ishigami.

For the structure, 83 piles and 54 earth anchors were used for the reinforced concrete underground beam foundation. The height difference between the floor and slope is close to five meters, and the structure is similar to that of a suspension bridge rotated 360 degrees. The maximum span is about 90 meters, and the ceiling height changes by about 30 cm due to heat shrinkage of the iron plate. The ceiling height is about 2.2 to 2.8 meters and the thickness of the roof iron plate is 12 mm.

The lowered ceiling of the plaza | Plaza of Kanagawa | Junya.Ishigami+Associates | STIRworld
The lowered ceiling of the plaza Image: Courtesy of Junya.Ishigami+Associates

Ribs as compression rings are planned within three meters of the outer circumference of the roof iron plate so that the burden of tension on the wall is reduced. The floor is covered with permeable asphalt used for paving roadways and high-pressure washing is used to remove oil and paint. Rainwater is instantly absorbed and flows under the floor, keeping the floor dry.

  • The sloped floors of the plaza | Plaza of Kanagawa | Junya.Ishigami+Associates | STIRworld
    The sloped floors of the plaza Image: Courtesy of Junya.Ishigami+Associates
  • The lowered ceiling of the plaza against other buildings | Plaza of Kanagawa | Junya.Ishigami+Associates | STIRworld
    The lowered ceiling of the plaza against other buildings Image: Courtesy of Junya.Ishigami+Associates

The absence of furniture in the plaza is another strategic move by the studio to enhance a person’s experience of the place, without any external connections between the body and the floor of the plaza. The slope allows people to sit down, stand up or even lie down comfortably. The horizon creates spatial segmentation and expanse at the same time, and in the landscape it appears as if that they are gathered but separated. A lot of different senses of distance and density are created, and it is synonymous with people gathering and blending into the environment.

02 mins watch The different spaces of the Plaza of Kanagawa Institute of Techonolgy | Plaza of Kanagawa | Junya.Ishigami+Associates | STIRworld
The different spaces of the Plaza of Kanagawa Institute of Techonolgy Video: Courtesy of Junya.Ishigami+Associates

Talking about the thought behind why the plaza has been set up without furniture, Ishigami says: “I thought that the relationship between humans and the environment would be as close as possible. I want to build a direct relationship between the body and the environment so that when I sit on the ground, I feel nature strongly, and when I sit on the floor, I feel intimate with architecture".

Project Details

Name: Plaza of Kanagawa Institute of Technology
Location: Kanagawa, Japan
Architect: Junya.Ishigami+Associates
Principal architect: Junya Ishigami
Project team: Taeko Abe, Shuma Tei, Motosuke Mandai, Sachie Morita, Toru Yamada, Masayuki Asami, Federico Lepre
Design and construction period: 2008-2020
Client: Ikutoku Gakuen / Kanagawa Institute of Technology
Surface area: 4,109.78m2

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