Multipurpose Building Is a Flexible Wooden Wonder

This story is part of Treehugger's news archive. Learn more about our news archiving process or read our latest news.
©. Kenta Hasegawa via Archdaily

Between 1616 and 1660 Hichijonomiya Toshihito and his son Toshitada built the Imperial Villa of Katsura, a country retreat for members of the Imperial Family near Kyoto.

villa interior

© Katsura detached villa interior/ Yasuhiro Ishimoto

Walter Gropius described it:

The traditional house is so strikingly modern because it contains perfect solutions, already centuries old, for problems which the contemporary Western architect is still wrestling with today; complete flexibility of movable exterior and interior walls, changeability, and multi-use of spaces, modular coordination of all the building parts, and prefabrication.
interior open

© Kenta Hasegawa via Archdaily

It is built of wood with beautiful joinery; it has moving walls and screens; the spaces are really undefined and flexible and can be put to many different uses, including such modern tasks as making circuit boards. Architect Aki Hamada describes it in Archdaily:

hamada interior screens

© Kenta Hasegawa via Archdaily

...since future reconstruction of the currently used factory building was under consideration, we tried to design an extension allowing for multiple uses, while providing adjustable spaces and programs in accordance with the active involvement of users. This building is constructed of a frame structure model designed to accommodate various conditions and requirements, as well as fitting and hardware elements allowing fine tuning by improving their adjustability and renewability. Those spaces in the building are characterized by the composition juxtaposing those elements without losing their original characteristics.

structure photo

© Kenta Hasegawa via Archdaily

The wood detailing is extraordinary, with its grid of tracks in the floor and beams above for the sliding screens.

structure study

© Aki Hamada Architects

Take a cruise through the architect's incredible drawings, structural studies and renderings here. It is mind-blowing.

view from exterior

© Kenta Hasegawa via Archdaily

While the interior of the building reminds me of traditional architecture, it also reminded me of La Maison du Peuple built in Clichy by Jean Prouvé with Beaudouin and Lods.

House of the People of Clichy

House of the People of Clichy/Public Domain

This was built in the late thirties with moveable interior and exterior walls that could change on demand. According to Kawin Dhanakoses:

house of the people structure

© Jean Prouve/ House of the People

This building had to be highly adaptable in order to serve many different functions, including market on the ground floor, a multi-purpose auditorium on the first floor with the offices for trades-unions and the town-hall. As a result, several mechanisms were introduced into this building. First, the central part of the first floor was operable. It consisted of eight floor components which can be moved towards the stage and stored on it. The cinema, the promenades and the foyer bar could be separated by a sliding partition system that could be folded away behind the stage and finally, the sliding glazed roof, operated by an electric system which can be opened up completely.

We playfully call these transformer buildings today, but in fact they have a history that goes back hundreds of years. Aki Hamada has taken a prosaic program and turned it into an architectural gem, a wooden wonder.