Yamada-machi is a town located on the central coastline of Japan’s Iwate prefecture. Its economy is based mainly on the fishing industry, with an emphasis on aqua-farming seafood such as scallops, oysters, sea urchin, and abalone. There are also several small and medium-sized factories in the mountainous regions. The total population of the town in 2010 was 18,625 people, which grew to 17,235 as of December 1, 2012.
After a devastating earthquake and tsunami hit the town in March 2011, several major companies were urged to help by a longtime friend of Yamada-machi in The Hague, the Netherlands. The companies were both Dutch and international, including the Van der Architects DSM, Rabobank, The Netherlands Chamber of Commerce in Japan, PA International Foundation, and Stichting’t Trekpaert.
This business group decided to offer the town a facility where children would have a place to play, heal, and come together. Following extensive consultations with the Yamada-machi authorities, it was proposed in February 2012 to establish an after-school facility and community center. The foundation is named after the island where in 1643 a Dutch ship named “The Breskens” landed in the Bay of Yamada.
This island was called “Oranda-jima,” or “Holland Island,” 350 years after the ship was stranded there. The program asked for a flexible building of approximately 2,150 square feet to accommodate about 60 children. The children will use the space from 3 p.m. until early evening when their parents picks them up.
Before 3 p.m. and during the weekends the space can be used as a community center. The building follows the programmatic requirements in a linear way. However, instead of designing a long rectangular building we decided to twist the building into itself; thus, creating a space that feels safe and enclosing.
From the onset of the project we wanted to build a building where we would use local labor. We decided on a local contractor, a “daiku,” or Japanese carpenter. All of the people who worked on the site are from Yamada-machi. The building uses wood, which expresses a simple, silent structure, designed from the inside out.
The building is positioned in such a way that daylight during the winter months will fall deep into the building, while during the summer months an overhang will provide shade. The children will use the space from 3 o’clock in the afternoon until 5 or 6 p.m. On the west side we have placed above a wooden corner bench a matte-white polycarbonate window.
Behind this window are trees and the orange light of dusk will cast beautiful shadows on this polycarbonate panel, not unlike patterns seen in Japanese rice paper screens. .