In its struggle for diversity, the Omiyamae Gymnasium by Jun Aoki meets successfully the traditional (quiet) lifestyle of the Suginami neighborhood, the technological modernity of the construction and, finally the need of a civic center of a town on the outskirts of the great Tokyo.
In Japan the classic European prototype of a public space such as piazza lacks at all. Yet, there is a different way to deal with the civic necessity to gather together.
In the past as well as in the present, public spaces in Japan have indeed been closely connected with the human traffic, with a movement, with an activity. Rather than being static, they have always been dynamic spots. Not a surprise, after all. Already during the Edo period Tokyo was the biggest city in the world, and a fixed arrangement of a public square would have not met properly the flow of a big number of citizens. The fact is that Tokyo has preserved up to nowadays the title of the world’s most populous metropolitan area. And the peculiar nature of Japanese public space has not changed much neither.
One of such dynamic public spaces was recently built in Japan by the Tokyo based architect Jun Aoki. He was commissioned to design the Omiyamae Gymnasium in Suginami district, near Tokyo.
As the architect ironically claims “the Gymnasium is not meant to house athletic games. It is a communal institution for local residents, a public space. Daily exercises are only a good pretext to come here. Though you don’t need a sport excuse to visit the complex. Surely the wide grassy rooftop is already enough tempting on a sunny day.”
What strikes the most from a first sight about the Omiyamae Gymnasium is the drop of density. Approaching the building from a compact residential neighborhood tailored from small tightly built private houses, one suddenly ends up on an open green square with two surprisingly low ellipse-shaped structures modestly popping up at the center. Where is the promised sports hall?
Trying to avoid the apparently inevitable and imposing presence of the 15-meters high structure, Jun Aoki has decided to shift the most of the building’s volume under the ground. As a result the Omiyamae Gymnasium is lower than the surrounding city. And it does not stand out at all.
Only a small amount of the entire volume is exposed over the ground level. From here, visitors can stroll all over the gymnasium’s rich functional program going up and down: walking through the lobby, the swimming pool area, the main arena, training gyms for martial arts and many other activities, lounge areas, café-shop and finally climbing up on the huge green roof.
What is important, while the roof of the biggest elliptical cylinder (as it was stressed before) is designed as a park, the roof of the minor building hosts solar panels mitigated by greenery and bushes. The use of renewable energy appears, in fact, to be a crucial factor in the Jun Aoki’s design strategy. Thus, this public facility is not only humble, but also, at least in part, self-sustainable.
Is this novelty in Aoki’s work a consequence of the 3.11 disaster? Perhaps. However, this building differs a lot from his previous works often characterized by conspicuous façades and extended use of appealing lights. Omiyamae Gymnasium is indeed not a striking icon but a self-effacing (meek) public space. It is quite simple from the point of view of composition, modest from the point of view of employed materials and rather minimal as the overall imagine of the building.
Minimal though not minimalistic. Indeed, it is enough complex to respond to the multitudes of thematic layers both inside and outside of the building. In its struggle for diversity, the Omiyamae Gymnasium meets successfully the traditional (quiet) lifestyle of the Suginami neighborhood, the technological modernity of the construction and, finally the need of a civic center of a town on the outskirts of the great Tokyo.
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