Realized by the Meguro-based studio Chiaki Arai Urban & Architecture Design in the Iwate prefecture of northeastern Japan, the project resembles a fortress more than a civic center.



The resemblance to the Castel del Monte (Italy, thirteenth century), the monumental building commissioned by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II is a rather easy and immediate mental connection.

A comparison closer to our century, Louis Kahn’s National Assembly in Dhaka (Bangladesh, 1974) is another strong example of a contemporary fortress.

Comparisons aside, the fortress as a typology carries with it such ideas as protection, and consequently notions of treasure or of preciousness. A fortress – in its eidetic reduction – is a stern, formidable building created to host and defend something important.

For the architect, Chiaki Arai, the object of importance to protect is represented by the citizenry. The architect’s intentions were to create a Civic Center for the inhabitants and with the inhabitants.

 “In its development, regional workshops and fieldwork have been organized more than 50 times to ensure communication among architects, local residents and public officers,” adds Arai.

The new Ōfunato Civic Center turned out to occasion a successful process in terms of the involvement of citizens and to become a point of reference for the entire Region. The Center “has attracted more than 20,000 people every month in a city of 40,000 people since it was inaugurated,” says the architect.

The Ōfunato Civic Center offers two levels of reading. The first is situated in the building’s outer appearance, which features solid buttressed volumes rising from the ground with broadly chamfered corners, pure concrete folded in on itself at obtuse angles like the more traditional castle towers.

The second level of reading of the Center is related to how its interior has been conceived. More as though the space were carved out of solid rock than being the product of a design obtained by juxtaposing the building program, the space inside has been conceived of through a sense of inside-ness (a protected, safe place) in contrast to the outside (exposed to risks).

The building in fact gives people inside the feeling of being in a natural cave. With natural light coming from roof or side openings (almost as if through breaches or cracks), reflection and refraction of the light by means of the grotto-studded surfaces helps create such an atmosphere.

In order to place still greater emphasis on the contrast between inside and outside (safe place/risky world) the level of detail from inside to outside changes drastically.

The facades outside are quite simple in terms of material and shape: the outer shell can be summarized as a unique surface slightly folded and breached at certain points.

Inside the building is completely different. The shape behavior changes continuously in terms of orientation and height; spotlights shine from above and laterally.

The Center in its interior is more complex and thus requires a higher and more fine level of detail.

Ofunato Civic Center and Library is a cultural building complex which consists of a main hall with 1100 seats, a library, multi-purpose spaces, an atelier, a tea room, and a studio.

As a matter of fact, the metaphor of the coffer or the fortress is consistent with the Chiaki Arai’s work in the extent to which it is strong and imposing outside, with hidden treasures inside.

Architects:Chiaki Arai Urban and Architecture Design

Location: Sakari-cho, Ofunato city, Iwate, Japan

Design Team: Chiaki Arai, Ryoichi Yoshizaki, Masatoshi Naito

Project Year:2008

Photographs:Taisuke Ogawa

Project Area: 5,255.82 sqm
Supervision: Masatoshi Naito
Structural Engineer: TIS and Partners
Engineer And Air Condition : PAC
Acoustical Consultant: Nagata Acoustics
Theater Consultant: Theater Workshop
Interiors: Chiaki Arai, Ryoichi Yoshizaki, Masatoshi Naito
Landscape: Chiaki Arai, Ryoichi Yoshizaki, Masatoshi Naito

source: Silvio Carta 

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