Student Award of Excellence: Sougawa Elementary School

This is a proposal for a school open to its site, physically and functionally, and meant to become part of the mundane and exceptional goings on of quotidian life. This is a departure from existing Japanese schools: panopticon-efficient, repetitive, and closed. The school represents a new kind of urbanity that doesn’t try to separate the public from the private, the garden from the building. The result is a mild provocation inspired by the architectural and urban traditions of Japan. The site comprises a total area of 11,020 square metres in one of the densest sites in the heart of Toyama City.

Circus-bound palazzos are the most private areas (home-room classrooms), raised on stilts above the public parks and semi-public classrooms below. A dense cooling forest, a moss garden, a bamboo garden, a floating playing field and decks of green soften the resultant isolation. Lower levels are open to the public and are interwoven with courtyards, a shopping mall and a community centre.

The school accommodates 18 classrooms for 720 students. These classrooms are treated like a traditional Japanese house with easy access to the exterior and to interstitial or un-programmed areas via sliding walls on three sides. A mixture of exciting, comfortable and banal is effected through an organization focused on the creation of a range of experientially rich sites to act as alternate settings for classes, didactic ecological biotopes and urban escapes.

A conscious experimentation is at the heart of the design, in which the “throwing together of landscape, public and private programs explores and tests new organizations.” The structure, a variation on Le Corbusier’s Domino Plan, is adapted to withstand earthquakes. Standard gypsum board walls are built inside a square of corner trusses and wood slats wrap the columns on the exterior while sliding doors placed in between the layers of wood and gypsum board can be used to close off or open three of the classroom’s four sides as required. The depth of the builidng is minimal for the maximization of natural light and to ensure natural ventilation. Green decks moderate heat in the summer.

Erickson: This project is a fine representation of subtle social engineering. It uses the very interesting idea of re-imagining the flexibility of the Japanese room so that it goes a step further in its ability to be modulated by reduction or addition.

Fisher: How does one encourage creative individuality in the education of Japanese children? This remarkable school prototype answers that with a system of classrooms whose walls open up to ample shared space for creative activities, which in turn open out to gardens at the centre of the block and cafs and libraries along the adjacent urban street. Play space occupies the green roofs, as does an art centre and community space. This thoughtful, well-researched design envisions a form of education linked to nature and the city that all schools could benefit from, in North America as well as Japan.

MacDonald: The architectural potential of this project is expressed as a function of the author’s ideology regarding public/private paradigms in Japanese culture, rather than as a developed architectural language represented through its tectonic development. The ideas are both insightful and interesting, but for me would have a more compelling impact if translated into a synthesized architectural form.