A ribbon of light in Japan

Tuesday 28 Jun 2011

molo design, d/dt Arch and Frank la Riviere Architects inc add a shot of colour to Aomori

A curious characteristic of civic building Nebuta-no-ie Warrase in Aomori is that its complete form can only be viewed in its entirety from the adjacent waterfront. The streaming scarlet ribbons that sweep across the building hang in heavy fronds from the roof, draping suggestively down to the water’s edge.

Co-designers of Nebuta-no-ie Warrase, molo design (who worked in collaboration with Frank la Riviere Architects and d/dt Arch on the project) imply that their recently completed creation has introduced a much-needed bolt of colour into the Aomori skyline: “Much of the surrounding cityscape is made up of uniform box-like buildings which are almost all in tones of grey or beige...In this context, the building appears as a red curtain at the end of the street activating it and turning everyday urban experiences into theatre.”

The volume itself has been built to house a series of flamboyant Japanese paper lanterns fashioned for the annual Nebuta Festival. These large-scale illuminated sculptures take the form of animals, monsters and demons, which battle to the death with their human counterparts as part of a yearly event which sees the city’s residents come together to dance, play music and revel in the rich spirit of the Aomori tradition.

As these delicate lanterns take many months to design and realise - and can cost as much as $200,000 - it is imperative that their final resting place is fitting with the finely honed craftsmanship that it takes to create these individual works of art.

The final product is a linear cuboid form, through which light permeates in varying levels as the spectator alters their position. This porous exterior casing falls in swathes of crimson steel, throwing shadows onto the walls and floor both internally and externally. molo design explain that these shadows ‘have the effect of creating a new material, turning the shadow and light into another screen – the convergence of material, light, shadow, reflection’. No part of the finished screen was the result of digital fabrication.

As a result, the architectural form becomes animated in a simple reflection of the structures it is designed to house, but is brought to life by natural light as opposed to manpower. In a more literal sense, the shafts of sunlight that filter through the fronds are reflected in the highly polished concrete floor, which has been ground down, polished and stained black in an attempt to mirror the quality of water.

The designers' considered approach to this intriguing civic project is a shining example that public facilities can be both practical and inventive, taking inspiration from the venue's unique artifacts in a sensitive and original fashion.

Project Team
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
MEP – PT Morimura & Associates, Ltd
Construction – Kajima; Fujimoto; Kurahashi Construction JV

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