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Nebuta House (Nebuta-no-ie Warasse), Aomori City, Japan

Monday 27 Jun 2011

Keeping things afloat

Photo: Shigeo Ogawa 
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Award Entry

A museum for the Nebuta Festival and its traditional carnival floats 

Nebuta House (Nebuta-no-ie Warasse) is a museum and centre for creative culture in the Northern Japanese city of Aomori inspired by the craftsmanship and spirit of the Nebuta Festival. The festival, one of Japan's largest, is a form of storytelling during which heroes, demons and animals from history and myth come to life as large-scale (9 x 7 x 5.5m) paper lanterns illuminated from within. The building is a house for these mythical creatures, functionally meant to share the tradition, archive the history and nurture the future of this unique cultural art form.  Located in front of Aomori train station, were the city meets the sea, the building opened January 5th, 2011.

The building is enclosed by twisted steel ribbons, each shaped to create variation: openings for filtered light, views, and opportunities for pedestrians to pass through. The ribbons were individually crafted during prefabrication, then manually adjusted on-site during installation. No part of the finished screen is the result of digital fabrication; like all things handmade, human intervention enlivens function.

The exterior screen creates a sheltered perimeter space that acts as a threshold between the contemporary world of the city and the world of myth. Shadow and light become another screen - the convergence of material, light, shadow and reflection changing with the sun and weather. Homogeneous, grey, box-like buildings constitute much of the surrounding cityscape. Commonplace objects like power lines and vending machines are dispersed throughout the uniformity. Here, the building appears as a vibrant curtain at the street's end - activating the streetscape, transforming everyday experience into theatre. Bicycles and traffic passing by, city workers breaking to eat or children playing in the snow take on a quality of performance and play.

Inside, a shadowy dwelling for the Nebuta is shaped by the layers of screens and volumes of ancillary rooms. The interior is black - like a black box theatre - the volumetric juxtaposition accommodates many possible uses and perspectives. The abstraction of materiality, detail and colouring of the building allow visitors an intimate focus on the story being told by the Nebuta. The luminous paper floats appear suspended in the darkness of the hall, their vibrant colours reflected only in the rippled, water-like floor.

Giant sliding doors divide and connect the main exhibit area from the theatre and multi-purpose spaces and provide a dynamic visual connection to the Nebuta during musical and theatrical performances, encouraging flexible use. During events, the towering Nebuta exit the building into the city streets through another massive sliding door. When sitting in the theatre with both sets of sliding doors open, one can see the vibrant Nebuta below, and beyond, Aomori harbour and the Hakkōda mountains.

Architectural Design and Site Supervision

- molo (Todd MacAllen + Stephanie Forsythe)

- d&dt Arch (Yasuo Nakata)

- Frank la Rivière Architects Inc (Frank la Rivière)

Structural Engineering

 - Kanebako Structural Engineers


- PT Morimura & Associates, Ltd


 - Kajima - Fujimoto - Kurahashi Construction JV

Key Facts

Status Completed
Value 0(m€)
Were you involved in this scheme?
molo / d&dt Arch / Frank la Rivière Architects Inc

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