[Healthcare] Park-like health and child care center in Japan
Japanese studios Unemori Architects and Teco Architects have designed an amusement park style for health and child care centers: Kitakami Children Health & Support Center.
Visits to the hospital are never desired, and even less so for children. Rooms are often designed and left cold and empty, devoid of attractive and distracting accessories. Unlike typical centers, UtA (Unemori teco Associates, a joint venture between UNEMORI ARCHITECTS and teco) has developed a park style for the Kitakami Children’s Health and Support Center.
Instead of building a new complex, UtA/Unemori teco Associates converted the first two floors of an eight-story commercial building in downtown Kitakami, Iwate Prefecture, Japan, into an inventive care complex health and child care with a total area of 4,000 m². They also redesigned the facade of the existing building, which featured a glass front and gave it a spacious entrance with sliding doors, and incorporated the healthcare and childcare facilities as well as a public meeting space.
“Converting a shopping complex, created by rationality like in any city, into a place for diverse people is a new attempt in Japan, and we conceived it as a project that could be a model case in the future. “, Hiroyuki Unemori said in a statement. interview with ArchiExpo e-Magazine. “The project team, made up of citizen experts and university professors involved in children’s health and education, was created by the city of Kitakami. We proceeded with the design in frequent discussion with the project team.
The commercial building dates from 1999 and, while not historically interesting, it illustrates how economically and environmentally smart the repurposing of existing structures is. The reconversion highlights the architectural competence of the partners for sensitive redevelopment of existing buildings and the reuse of rare spaces in the city. The lower two floors of the existing building provide rectangular space and were completely gutted for the conversion. The new complex is structured around a central and open space, characterized by gently undulating floors and ceiling, as well as a facade with large windows and an entrance area.
“The challenge was not only to fit out a building for people involved in health and early childhood, but also to create an open space that would also be accessible to other residents of the city and provide a place to meet. We deconstructed the existing rectangular grid with gently undulating floors and ceilings that overlap the rigid structure of the room. This creates a shift and softness in the space. Additionally, for the generous space created under the corrugated ceiling, we have designed a number of seats with varying textures and seat heights that divide the space and make it accessible due to their human scale,” said continued Hiroyuki Unemori.
UtA/Unemori teco Associates structured the space around a multi-purpose indoor central plaza, an open space in the center of the first floor accessible to the public, thus connecting the city to the outside with the installation. The high-ceilinged plaza consists of an atrium, café and reception desk and serves as an entrance and waiting area to the surrounding rooms with various functions such as a facility for medical examinations , an indoor playground, an exhibition room, a consultation room and an office area. Transcending the building typology of a nursery, a number of seats with varying textures and seat heights were installed as a public meeting point in the foyer.
Going beyond the building’s nursery typology, the lobby features an array of seating areas of varying textures and seating heights that are set up as public gathering points. The commercial buildings were composed of simple rectangular grids, rebuilt by Uta/Unemori Teco Associates, creating playful undulating ceilings and floors. The wavy shapes provided an interesting and offbeat floor experience to the play area and, as a ceiling, provided safe clearance for healthcare vehicles, leaving ample duct space above. The ceiling is illuminated over the entire surface, creating a play of shadow and light that adds depth to the whole.
“We wanted to create a space like an outdoor park without artificial lighting by absorbing natural light in the undulating translucent ceiling, but it was difficult to achieve the capture and diffusion of natural light.”
The architects reflect the waves in the ceiling and floors outside the complex, creating an impressive overhang on the facade. As the exterior walls previously had few or no openings, UTA/Unemori Teco Associates enclosed the structure with large windows and sliding glass doors to allow a view of the interior from the exterior, reinforcing the open nature of the building and its relationship with the city. .
Previously, UNEmori Architects created an earthquake-resistant community center in Kitakami as part of the city’s regeneration, as did a Takaoka townhouse raised on stilts. The 4,000 square meter space includes general health care services and child care counseling services and is also Kitakami City’s public gathering space. Uta/Unemori Teco Associates structured the space around a central indoor and multi-purpose plaza, a publicly accessible space at the center of the ground floor, thus connecting the city beyond to the installation.
“Japanese cities are maturing and we believe renovations like this project will continue to increase. A renovation like this project is a creation that combines the old with the new, and I saw great potential in it. Also, I think that a space that everyone can freely access and spend their time like this, that is to say an architecture that allows the existence of others, is very important in an inclusive society that recognizes diversity contemporary.
Architecture and furniture: UtA/Unemori Teco Associates
Structural engineers: MOMI design office
Mechanical engineers: ZO Consulting Engineers
Sign design: Nippon Design Center Inc. Irobe Design Institute
Textile design: Let’s talk about curtains
General contractors: Hazama Ando Corporation, Obara Construction Joint Venture Group
Area: 14216 m²
Photography: Kai Nakamura
Breaking News: Sukagawa Community Center and BASE
UNEMORI Architects has also collaborated with teco on a new shared office space called BASE where the two firms will establish their camp. The renovation project concerns a building built in 1964 in Asakusabashi, a district where wholesale businesses specializing in leather and decorative materials are concentrated. They questioned the importance of coming together and working together in the age of coronavirus and what kind of space is needed in the current era. Through a competition, the two companies decided to let people move freely and activate the whole building by using four floors as common spaces, accommodating meeting space, a kitchen and toilets, while each of the two offices maintains its own base of operations separately on the rest floors.
“It was not possible to create an atrium on the floors, because it was a reinforced concrete building for rent and also because of seismic performance problems. Therefore, we have given unique characteristics to each space while clearly defining the concept of each floor,” as stated in a press release.
They designed the first floor as an open corner site in the city to actively participate in community events, including the Torigoe Shrine festival. The second floor houses a naturally ventilated garden where the floors are waterproofed along the perimeter and finished with large tiles. Teco is based on the third floor and UNEMORI Architects on the fourth. The fifth floor reveals a library and the sixth floor is an outdoor terrace with a tent-covered restroom.
UNEMORI Architects collaborated with Ishimoto Architectural & Engineering Firm on the Sukagawa Community Center. This mixed-use complex built in Sukagawa City, Fukushima Prefecture, is part of a reconstruction project following the Great East Japan Earthquake. The objective was to recapture the city’s lost liveliness and regenerate citizen interaction by creating a base of activities with multiple functions including a library offering a lifelong learning program, childcare support of children, a museum among others in the center of the city which was badly damaged by the earthquake. The floor slabs were divided into small sections, stacked to form a gradual setback on the site facing a historic main street, while great care was taken not to distract neighboring houses.
Numerous terraces resulting from the floor setbacks provide places for people to engage in various activities while overlooking the city, and the void created within connects each floor sectionally and visually. The first floor, which serves as the main entrance to the facility, is a sloping space connecting the site’s 2.5 meter elevation difference, where a waiting area, cafe and event space are provided in the open atmosphere perfectly connected with the hilly town of Sukagawa.
“Through a series of citizen workshops, we sought to create an organic architecture that transcended functional boundaries. We have created various spaces for people to stay, including a bright socializing area, a quiet reading nook, a three-dimensional play area, an attic space like an engawa (a wooden veranda along the edges of a traditional Japanese dwelling) among others, and place books throughout the facility. The upper floors are connected by gentle slopes and stairs, and you can walk around the whole building as if you were walking through the city,” as stated in a press release.