by Jerry ElengicalJun 27, 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."
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.
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 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.
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."
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."
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 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.”
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
- Brutalist Architecture
- Concrete Architecture
- Exposed Concrete
- Facade Design
- Geometric Design
- Institutional Architecture
- Institutional Building
- Institutional Design
- Interior Design
- Japanese Architect
- Japanese Architecture
- Landscape Design
- Public Space
- School Architecture
- Sports Architecture