Sambuichi Architects

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The Rokko Shidare Observatory. Photo by Peter Mandal Hansen. 

By Peter Mandal Hansen

Sun, wind, and water are the essential elements of Japanese architect, Hiroshi Sambuichi’s (b. 1968), approach to architecture. Like the tide, Sambuichi calls these natural phenomena the “moving materials” – as opposed to the non-moving materials used in his architectural design: stone, wood, glass, or metal. The architecture of Sambuichi is created when combining the non-moving materials with the natural phenomena of a site. To discover the energy scape of a site, Hiroshi Sambuichi approaches a specific design by closely examining the site, analyzing the context and the topography, and by experiencing the changing climatic conditions of the four seasons.

In Japanese tradition, it is said that a house lives with the four distinctive seasons that fill the houses with colours, sounds, and changing views of the surrounding nature. Traditional Japanese houses are in a continuous dialogue with the natural phenomena. During the summer, the house expands into the surrounding porches, the engawa, inviting in the refreshing wind, while in the winter it covers itself up with shutters.

Inujima Seirensho Art Museum. Exterior view of the distinct chimney towering behind the Sun Gallery. Photo courtesy of arcspace. 

The terrain of Hiroshi Sambuichi is the landscape and mild climate of the Seto Inland Sea, with its archipelago and low mountains. Sambuichi graduated from Tokyo’s leading technical university, the Tokyo University of Science, and established his practice, Sambuichi Architects in 2008 in his hometown, Hiroshima, situated behind Kenzo Tange’s Peace Center.

Sambuichi gained international recognition and attention with the Inujima Seirensho Art Project , a conversion of the abandoned copper refinery on the small island of Inujima in the north of the Seto Inland Sea into an art installation. Sambuichi utilizes the prevailing winds and the remaining chimney of the refinery to drag both cooling air into a tunnel enlightened by mirrors bringing daylight into the dark tunnel, the Earth gallery, and warm air produced in the glass covered Sun gallery. The Inujima project is constructed partly by dark slag bricks, which are abundant on the site. The Inujima Art Project is developed as part of the Fukutake company’s philanthropic work with developing this back waters of Seto Inland Sea with art and art tourism as a generator.

In 2016, Sambuichi finished the Naoshima Hall, which offers communal facilities for the inhabitants of the village of Honmura on Naoshima. The multi-purpose hall, made by hinoki, Japanese cypress, is formed by a large, pitched roof, ventilated through the opening in the top of the roof, a principle inspired from the traditional thatched roof. For two and a half year, Sambuichi carefully studied the energyscape of the village, and discovered that the orientation of the houses in the village was a part of creating a cooling microclimate. Sambuichi orientated the Naoshima hall to bring in the cooling winds and placed a garden with moss around with a pond to create a cooling microclimate for the community center.

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The Naoshima Hall, a multi-purpose hall for the inhabitants in Honmura. Photo by Peter Mandal Hansen. 

Another remarkable project by Sambuichi is the Rokko Shidare Observatory that crowns the Rokko mountain near Kobe, and offers a marvelous view over the high land and the Seto Inland Sea. The special conditions of the weather on top of the mountain – 900 meter above sea level – made Sambuichi work with the water in its different forms. On the top, the cold wind, under special weather conditions, creates frost on the tree branch structure which covers the observatory. Inspired by local tradition of storing ice, during the winter ice from small pools around the building are collected in blocks and carried into the ice-chamber of the observatory, and during the warm months, the coolness of the ice block is released, and the dripping ice water becomes part of the experience. Another project is the Itsukushima shrine on top of the 535 meter sacred mount Misen, where Sambuichi erected an observatory in wood with pitched roof and overhangs above the shrine, covering a raised floor to sit and to relax, picnic or enjoy the views to the Inland Sea.

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The Rokko Shidare Observatory with the structure to catch the frost and the pools for collecting ice during the winter season. Photo by Peter Mandal Hansen.

The latest building from Sambuichi’s office is the 50 meter tall Hiroshima Orizuru Tower, in the city center of Hiroshima, near the studio of the architect, overlooking the Atomic Peace Park. A public, open ramp brings the visitor from ground level all the way to the top of the office building, slowly revealing changing views of the city as you walk up towards the top. When standing on the top of the building, a small hill on the viewing platform under a protecting roof, enhances the wind, making the building almost breathe.

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The observatory by Sambuichi Architects at Mount Misen on the island of Miyajima. Photo by Peter Mandal Hansen. 

In the hands of Sambuichi, architecture becomes as fine-tuned musical instrument that resonates the dynamic elements of the surrounding nature. To Sambuichi, the architectural tradition implies an indepth knowledge to discover how to build not only with solid materials but also with sun, wind and the water, the moving materials. 

I want you to understand, I want you to see and feel that moving materials and wind, water and sun are themselves aspects of the culture, history and customs of the villages that coexist with the terrain. In other words, they are basic elements of the wisest relationship between the activities of the people and the earth. / Sambuichi

From April 28, the Danish Architecture Centre will be host to a retrospective exhibition portraying the works of Hiroshi Sambuichi. The exhibition is part the series of cultural events taking place in both Denmark and Japan in the wake of the 150th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Read more about the exhibition currently on show at DAC here