Tanada Terrace House by MUJI x Atelier Bow-Wow

The House Vision is an enterprise that attempts to help shape the near-future of our living environment. As it was directed by Kenya Hara, who is its Advisory Board member, MUJI has been the primary participants of House Vision. At the House Vision 2016, MUJI drew the “future” of life-work balance that is consistent with Hara’s philosophy summarized in his book “Designing Design“:

the progress does not necessarily, and exclusively mean pushing things forward. We are all in between the past and the future.  True creativity should not be just forward-looking.  We should be able see where the society is heading, by looking it through the past.  We have to remember that we have vast knowledge base left by our ancestors, and the profoundness of the knowledge shouldn’t be underestimated for the sake of progress.  True creativity should be something that can embrace the past and the future.

Hara K. (2003). Designing Design. Iwanami Publishing. translation by Mihoyo Fuji.)

Today, rural areas still maintain some traditional knowledge, but it’s on the verge of extinction. What can people in urban areas do to help save and benefit from it? MUJI tried to answer this often overlooked question by looking at “satoyama.”

Satoyama is hilly areas that surround communities. For thousands of years, people had been taking care of it so that they could fetch food, fuels and other resources consistently by replenishing them. While it’s been full of knowledge and wisdom, it’s rapidly disappearing as people abandon it for modern jobs and life style. MUJI stepped up and been working in a small community in Kamogawa, Chiba (about 60km from central Tokyo) as part of the Kamogawa Satoyama Trust project. Part of the objectives is to preserve the knowledge to maintain tanada (rice terrace) that has been used in areas that didn’t have enough flat land, which is the case in many Japanese areas.

For hundreds of years, people put enormous efforts to develop rice fields in hilly areas in order to survive. Those communities were surrounded by satoyama.
Left: Eriyama rice terraces in Ogi city, Saga prefecture, Japan. By Pekachu (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Right: Rice terrace of Ōura in Hizen town, Karatsu city, Saga, Japan. by mahlervv [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Tanada Terrace Office was designed as MUJI’s satellite office in Kamogawa, and will be installed at a rice terrace site in Kamayama to become a hub to facilitate interaction of its employees and local people.

Leveraging Tanada Terrace Office, MUJI employees can choose a work style that is half-urban, half-rural. For example, he/she can go to the office in Tokyo in the morning, and then start heading to Kamogawa. He/she would have a local meeting over lunch at Terrace Office.  After working upstairs, he/she would go down to the field, weeding and performing much needed help for aging local farmers.  At the end of the day, everyone is able to get together and have a BBQ.  Because it’s not too far from Tokyo, he/she still can go home after all those activities.

MUJI is hoping that Tanada Terrace Office will become an architectural design easily adoptable by other organizations. If half-urban, half-rural work style can become a norm for other businesses and organizations, there will be a variety of new opportunities for people to collaborate.  Whereas a single company would typically require only a certain range of skill sets,  this collaboration would unleash unexplored opportunities by connecting different people with different resources and skills. 

Ryuten, Korakuen Left by Reggaeman (photo by Reggaeman) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Atelier Bow-Wow, the designer of Tanada Office, tapped some Japanese traditional architecture for ideas.  Ryuten (above) is a garden patio at Korakuen, Okayama. Korakuen was developed during the Edo period (construction started in 1687) by Okayama’s “dai-myo” (local feudal ruler subordinate to the Sho-gun). It employs a Kaiyu-shiki style, which surrounds a central pond (or small lake).  It is designed so visitors can enjoy the changing views and facilities at different viewpoints along the water body.  Ryuten is a patio in a garden, through which a river flows. Six peculiar stones are installed along the stream.  Simple and rustic, the first floor only has pillars.

Itakura Left by By そらみみ (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Yet another example is Tane-kura, a storage for crops. Unlike Koraku-en, tane-kura represents traditional architecture by ordinary people.  It has a sturdy structure so that it can maintain stability even on a slope.

Tanada Terrace Office is two-story. The first floor is a warehouse for farming, with a terrace area where people can get together.  When it’s closed, it works as a sturdy storage that can organize many tools and equipment, and provide inside shielding from weathering and strong sunlight. When opened, it dissolves into nature, and becomes a place for meeting and socializing.

The second floor is an office with network connectivity for MUJI staff. It employs flip-up windows to maximize the views and ventilation. Surrounded by beautiful nature, they will be able to work relaxed and productively.  Wooden furniture is the same as the ones used at MUJI headquarters and designed to offer a comfortable working environment.  There are a couple of important characteristics:

Here are a couple of important characteristics of Tanada Terrace Office:

1) SE structure
MUJI designs and sells houses in Japan, employing the SE structure. SE structure is a type of rigid frame, a load-resisting skeleton constructed and interconnected with straight or curved members.  SE structure has traditionally been employed for rigid/uniform materials such as steel and/or concrete.  However, it is increasingly used for wooden houses, leveraging emerging technologies.  SE structure allows MUJI to achieve its signature “One room house” design, which realizes uninterrupted, non-partitioned space by removing load-bearing walls.

2) Farmers’ “bricolage

Bricolage is a French word meaning “creating something from a diverse range of available things.” It is frequently used by Japanese architects influenced by French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss .   Terrace Office is designed minimally applying a simple structure so that the users/residents can edit and modify the structure based on their needs and creativity, leveraging common materials such as slabs and plastic sheets that are available at home improvement stores.

3) Open source design data

MUJI plans on making the design data public so that other people can use them to make their own version of Terrace Office.