By Kiyomi Takano / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterHiroshi Naito, an architect and a professor emeritus at the Univer-sity of Tokyo, is engaged in reconstruction of areas hard hit by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and other projects, harboring his hope of “creating a place of abode for people.”
Often maintaining that “architecture outlives humans,” Naito’s philosophy differs from that of architects who compete with radical designs. Two of his most recently completed public buildings also reflect thoughts he has begun to embrace through his experiences from the 2011 disaster.
At the Shizuoka Prefecture Kusanagi Sports Complex in Shizuoka, a new gymnasium named the Konohana Arena was completed in April. The grand roof is powerfully and beautifully supported by a total of 256 laminated cedar timbers produced in Shizuoka Prefecture, all 14.5 meters long.
“If people feel warm or enveloped, I think my experience of meeting so many people in the Tohoku region who have lost the place where they had lived has been expressed in a different way,” Naito, 64, said to an audience at a preview in late March.
Naito taught in the civil engineering department at the University of Tokyo for 10 years beginning in 2001. But at age 60 he decided to concentrate on architecture. The 2011 disaster struck only 30 minutes before his final lecture at the university.
He was asked by the central and local governments to take part in various committees on reconstruction works, and still visits quake-hit areas about once a month.
Asked how the experience influenced him, he replied: “I’m not sure, but I assume it affected me.”
Looking at the landscapes where buildings were swept away and even human existence became impossible, he reconsidered what role architects should play, he said.
“Both this gymnasium and the Azumino city office may strongly reflect my desire to build places of abode for people,” he said.
The new Azumino city office in Nagano Prefecture opened on May 7. He designed the building with renewed recognition of the important role local government offices perform as the core of local communities, after seeing many local government offices that were damaged by the 2011 disaster. The mayor of the city asked Naito to design a “strong and solid building.”
The new building is meant to serve two roles: a place for citizens to relax in peaceful times and a reliable disaster center in emergencies. The building has a simple structure, with rectangular floors.
“I comprehensively incorporated details that we put together in our office. The space is highly dense, and I’m satisfied with this,” Naito said.
Naito is known for architectural works such as the Sea-Folk Museum in Mie Prefecture, Chihiro Art Museum Azumino in Nagano Prefecture and Shimane Arts Center “Grand Toit” in Shimane Prefecture.
He has always put top priority on his understanding that buildings will remain for many years in the local climate and environment, without being swayed by fashions in design.
After the 2011 disaster, architects who had pursued their own expression voiced regrets and began speaking about their rededication to emphasizing harmony with nature and regional characteristics. However, as most of their reconstruction proposals were not employed, architectural assistance has been realized to only a limited degree.
“When I visit the Sanriku region, I always feel overwhelmed [by the challenges of reconstruction],” Naito said.
“I think it may be necessary for Japan to return to its state around 1960,” he said. “I feel like the laws and administrative systems, which were streamlined back then, are now obstructing reconstruction efforts.”
At the University of Tokyo, he tried to link the three fields of architecture, civil engineering and city planning, which had long been separately handled. He felt the necessity for such a change through his work designing JR Asahikawa and Kochi stations. With this need in mind, he has been involved not only in projects in quake-hit areas, but also city planing in rural areas and large-scale redevelopment projects in Tokyo