Nikken Sekkei crafts a perforated concrete monolith for school gymnasium in Japan

Situated in the university’s Honjo campus, Waseda University Honjo Senior High School Gymnasium is an inward-looking structure that exhibits a reverence for natural light.

by Jerry ElengicalPublished on : May 30, 2022

When called to design a gymnasium for a high school affiliated to one of Japan's leading private universities, Tokyo-based firm Nikken Sekkei sought to inculcate a sense of 'simple beauty' to the space, stripping its essence down to the bare essentials and creating curated ties to its natural context. Situated in the Honjo campus of Waseda University, the space - realised as an austere, perforated block dressed in fair-faced concrete, was to serve as an “extension of the everyday", gradually imbuing a sense of awe into the minds of users as they encounter more of what it has to offer. The firm reveals in a press statement, "When designing this gymnasium, our thoughts revolved around the idea of architectural expression that can be both modern but also 'universal' in the sense that it can belong to any era."

Waseda University Honjo Senior High School Gymnasium by Nikken Sekkei in Honjo, Japan | Waseda University Honjo Senior High School Gymnasium | Nikken Sekkei | STIRworld
The building has been realised as a stern and introverted block in fair-faced concrete Image: Harunori Noda, Gankohsha

In this regard, Waseda University Honjo Senior High School Gymnasium emerges almost as a primaeval monolith, placed in a landscaped plaza within the campus, which perfectly complements its severe yet serene morphology. A melange of concrete textures imbue liveliness to the structure's boxy exterior, compensating for the observable lack of ornament or decoration of any kind. Planted in an open public space, the gymnasium possesses an imposing visual presence that is somewhat mediated by its subtle materiality.

Walkthrough of Waseda University Honjo Senior High School Gymnasium Image: Courtesy of Nikken Sekkei

What is perhaps most striking about this almost 'introverted' façade design, and the clear influence it has drawn from brutalist sensibilities, is the notable absence of a traditional window grid, save for its glazed lower stratum. Instead, an assortment of circular incisions along its faces infuse a sponge-like quality to the building’s exterior, optimising and regulating its absorption of sunlight. Moving inwards, the treatment of light throughout the structure is key to the unique atmosphere of its interior, which radiates a sense of calm, and "a grasp of more a natural essence," as per the design team.

The building’s exterior features a notable absence of regularly-sized windows, instead relying on circular incisions on its faces for natural lighting | Waseda University Honjo Senior High School Gymnasium | Nikken Sekkei | STIRworld
The building’s exterior features a notable absence of regularly-sized windows, instead relying on circular incisions on its faces for natural lighting Image: Harunori Noda, Gankohsha

The architects initially envisioned a gymnasium that would rely primarily on diffused natural light for its illumination while filtering out excess sunlight as necessary, in order to foster a more holistic connection between the interior and its larger context. However, as most spaces within this typology make use of blackout curtains when staging major events or engagements, the interior design also had to accommodate for this functional flexibility in such situations.

A landscaped plaza surrounds the structure, complementing and mediating its severe form | Waseda University Honjo Senior High School Gymnasium | Nikken Sekkei | STIRworld
A landscaped plaza surrounds the structure, complementing and mediating its severe form Image: Harunori Noda, Gankohsha

Nikken Sekkei shares, “To achieve this goal, four structural 'tubes' were designed around the perimeter of the arena. These tubes have an important role to play in the operation of the facility, as they house air conditioning, lighting, and sound equipment. Access is possible through hatches built into the walls.” They continue, "The outermost tube is the most spacious, and functions as a corridor, an indoor running track, and as a passageway for indirect light to pass through to the arena. With small and large holes bored into the walls of the arena at strategic locations, natural daylight that penetrates to the arena core is pale and dim, akin to a midnight sun."

  • Exposed concrete defines much of the structure’s materiality, both inside and outside | Waseda University Honjo Senior High School Gymnasium | Nikken Sekkei | STIRworld
    Exposed concrete defines much of the structure’s materiality, both inside and outside Image: Harunori Noda, Gankohsha
  • Subtle changes in spatiality are the main contrast to the otherwise uniform visual character of the project | Waseda University Honjo Senior High School Gymnasium | Nikken Sekkei | STIRworld
    Subtle changes in spatiality are the main contrast to the otherwise uniform visual character of the project Image: Harunori Noda, Gankohsha
  • View of the building’s concrete stair | Waseda University Honjo Senior High School Gymnasium | Nikken Sekkei | STIRworld
    View of the building’s concrete stair Image: Daici Ano

Changes in spatiality are the primary means through which the building engages with users, from its cavernous activity halls and courts to the more enclosed circulation spaces. The design team notes: "Ornamentation was kept to a minimum to clarify the composition of the building. The structural layout is akin to a temple; the intent of the spatial configuration was to create a place where users can learn the 'essence' of things." They add, "The building is completely devoid of added colour or paint, both inside and out; 'primitive' grey concrete is its only signature. Rather, it might be more correct to say that one does not 'feel' its colour in the traditional sense. Instead, the space exudes a sensitivity for light and materials."

  • The main gymnasium space on the upper floor is the design’s highlight | Waseda University Honjo Senior High School Gymnasium | Nikken Sekkei | STIRworld
    The main gymnasium space on the upper floor is the design’s highlight Image: Harunori Noda, Gankohsha
  • Perforations in the walls along with a rhythmic ceiling grid generate a ‘drizzle’ of natural light into the space | Waseda University Honjo Senior High School Gymnasium | Nikken Sekkei | STIRworld
    Perforations in the walls along with a rhythmic ceiling grid generate a ‘drizzle’ of natural light into the space Image: Harunori Noda, Gankohsha
  • The treatment of light within the space lends it an almost hallowed character | Waseda University Honjo Senior High School Gymnasium | Nikken Sekkei | STIRworld
    The treatment of light within the space lends it an almost hallowed character Image: Left: Harunori Noda, Gankohsha/ Right: Daici Ano

On the upper floor, the main gymnasium space is without a doubt, the highlight of the institutional design, enclosed by walls littered with a plethora of perforations that permit light to gently 'drizzle' inwards. From certain angles, the holes themselves resemble tiny 'moons' orbiting the hall. A diagonally-oriented lattice along the ceiling of this space supplements this design feature, providing illumination from above. The product of this system is a spatial experience that verges on the hallowed and spiritual - silent, contemplative, and at all times breathtaking in its detailing. A running track has also been incorporated into the layout, around this space’s periphery.

  • Under its program, the building also contains a dedicated martial arts room | Waseda University Honjo Senior High School Gymnasium | Nikken Sekkei | STIRworld
    Under its program, the building also contains a dedicated martial arts room Image: Harunori Noda, Gankohsha
  • Club rooms and other auxiliary spaces have also been incorporated into the program | Waseda University Honjo Senior High School Gymnasium | Nikken Sekkei | STIRworld
    Club rooms and other auxiliary spaces have also been incorporated into the program Image: Harunori Noda, Gankohsha
  • Shower rooms are present near the entrance on the ground level | Waseda University Honjo Senior High School Gymnasium | Nikken Sekkei | STIRworld
    Shower rooms are present near the entrance on the ground level Image: Daici Ano

Under its functional program, the building hosts a club room, meeting rooms, training facilities, a dedicated martial arts field, a machine room, and storage spaces. Exposed concrete remains the defining aesthetic feature throughout all the zones, embedded with wood grain finishes that add variety to the otherwise uniform aesthetic permeating the entirety of the design. With this in mind, the architects mention, "The gymnasium is designed to be an extension of the everyday; as students ascend the floors, their experience becomes gradually more extraordinary. However, the design intent is not to 'invert' the everyday into the extraordinary, but rather into a more common, 'everyday' experience.”

  • Perspective Section and Plans | Waseda University Honjo Senior High School Gymnasium | Nikken Sekkei | STIRworld
    Perspective Section and Plans Image: Courtesy of Nikken Sekkei
  • Exploded Axonometric View | Waseda University Honjo Senior High School Gymnasium | Nikken Sekkei | STIRworld
    Exploded Axonometric View Image: Courtesy of Nikken Sekkei

Project Details

Name: Waseda University Honjo Senior High School Gymnasium
Location: Honjo, Saitama Prefecture, Japan
Site Area: 63,000 sqm
Total Floor Area: 4466 sqm
Number of Floors: 3 + 1 penthouse floor
Maximum Height: 18.55 m
Year of Completion: 2020
Client: Waseda University
Architect: Nikken Sekkei
Main Structure: Reinforced concrete/part steel
Construction: TODA CORPORATION

What do you think?

About Author

Recommended

LOAD MORE
see more articles
3856,4022,3972,4088,3876

Keep it stirring

get regular updates SIGN UP

This site uses cookies to offer you an improved and personalised experience. If you continue to browse, we will assume your consent for the same.
LEARN MORE AGREE