Tanada Terrace House by MUJI x Atelier Bow-Wow

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House Vision is an exhibition/forum to re-define “urban living,” as a central and most advanced juncture, where product/service providers (industries) meet their recipients.  There are many Zero elements.  MUJI x Atelier Bow-Wow produced Tanada Terrace Office for new, organic urban – rural relationship.

House Vision is directed by Kenya Hara, who is the Advisory Board member for MUJI.  Naturally MUJI has been the primary participants of House Vision.  In his defining book “Designing Design,” Hara talks about the design that achieves true progress:

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 future.  True creativity should be something that can embrace the past and the future. (translation by Mihoyo Fuji.)

However, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to maintain abundant knowledge base left by our ancestors because it’s forced to compete against economic efficiency.  Traditional knowledge is on the verge of extinction in many places where agriculture, commercial or industrial activities are only marginally viable.   

Typical economically marginal areas in Japan. Enormous efforts were put to to develop rice fields in hilly areas to increase production.
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

In Japan, satoyama, a type of rural areas surrounded by accessible mountains, is one of the distressed communities suffering from economic decline and rapid aging losing to global competition.  MUJI produced Tanada Terrace Office in collaboration with Atlier Vow-Wow to help satoyama communities.  The offices are scheduled to be installed in satoyama communities in Kamogawa, Chiba, after House Vision exhibition.  This project is a great example of Hara’s “true creativity that embraces the past and the future” to induce progress.   MUJI sees traditional heritage accumulated in satoyama as practical assets critical to move forward and make progress.  It’s not about reminiscences or history.

As the name “tanada” (rice terrace) suggests, Kamogawa area where MUJI is collaborating with local communities primarily rely on rice production leveraging rice terrace, which is has been developed in mountainous areas where agriculture is only marginally viable. 

However, the very limitation or difficulties posed by nature have been driving enormous creativity among local people whether it’s farming or irrigation methods, or ideas to take care of forests to get most out of them, craftsmanship or culture leveraging locally available resources.

MUJI has been helping local satoyama communities in Kamogawa because it believes that the knowledge base, skills, culture and craftsmanship acculumated in satoyama is precious and shouldn’t go extinct.  MUJI has been sending its employees to Kamogawa when local communities (mostly old people) need hands to harvest, or carry out some events.

Tanada Terrace Office is going to become MUJI’s satellite office in Kamogawa, Chiba.  Kamogawa is about 60 miles from Tokyo. Even though it’s not very far from Japan’s largest economic center, the surrounding local communities are only marginally economic for agricultural/commercial/industrial activities and are suffering from social decline. MUJI has been involved in various projects in Kamayama, Kamogawa, to revitalize local traditional skills, culture and heritage. As part of their engagements, Tanada Terrace Office 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:

Hhere 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.