Unosumai School Competition Proposal

2013 -

This proposal is for the relocation and reconstruction on higher ground of an elementary school, junior high school and kindergarten damaged by the massive tsunami during the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 2011. I collaborated with two teams of architects with whom I have close ties, and we sought to design a “polyphonic” environment for children to spend 12 long years of schooling. Normally, large-scale earth removal would be required to secure sufficient building area on high ground, but to preserve mountainous scenery that is a backdrop for the community and is dotted with many shrines and altars, we aimed to integrate civil engineering and architecture so as to keep earth removal to a bare minimum. The buildings take the form of many small units, primarily wood-frame and steel-frame, distributed over the site in a carefully calibrated reconfiguration of what the schools had once been. In an area called the “school in the forest,” the slope is minimally cut away to accommodate classrooms, a children’s center, and a kindergarten. Junior high school, elementary school, children’s center, and kindergarten follow one upon the other in a horizontal progression that flows parallel to the contour lines of the site. Projecting mountain spurs serve as natural partitions at appropriate intervals, so that the cluster is subdivided into “junior high valley,” “elementary school valley,” and so forth. The scenery children see evolves as they move up to higher grades, or move around within the course of a single day. Another, contrasting section, called the “school in the town,” is a lively row of structures along the roadside, housing specialized classrooms, administrative building, budojo, gymnasium, etc. On the hillside behind the school is a network of tsunami evacuation routes which are visible from anywhere in the community. We envisioned reconnecting the town to the forest, where children in the past played at jinya asobi (an annual local tradition of competing to build and decorate forts), as a genuine and effective means of creating a disaster-resistant community.


location Kamaishi City, Iwate Pref.
principal use kindergarten, children’s center, elementary and junior high school
total floor area 13,100m2
collaborative architects denefes Inc., MIKAN Architects
competition result selected as one of the finalists at Open Design Competition in 2013