Aomori Nebuta House

JA+U : Aomori Nebuta House by Molo Design
Nebuta House is located by the harbor in Aomori, one of the northernmost cities on Japan’s main island. The 6,708 m2 (72,204 ft2) building houses two floors of displays, workshops, and a theater.

JA+U : Aomori Nebuta House by Molo Design
The exterior glazing is veiled in bright red – the color inspired by the region’s lacquerware –  strips of 9 mm-thick (0.35 in) and 12 meter-tall (39.4 feet) steel. The space between the glazing and steel strips functions as a promenade around the building.

JA+U : Aomori Nebuta House by Molo Design

JA+U : Aomori Nebuta House by Molo Design
The steel strips bend and twist to make access ways. 

JA+U : Aomori Nebuta House by Molo Design
They also assist at converting soft northern sunlight into a dramatic visual element admitted into the building.

JA+U : Aomori Nebuta House by Molo Design

JA+U : Aomori Nebuta House by Molo Design
The interior is painted black to contrast with the illuminated Nebuta lanterns. The light from the displayed lanterns is reflected onto the floor, creating a, in the words of the architects: “a subtle analogy to the last day of the festival when some of the Nebuta are set out to float upon the sea”.

JA+U : Aomori Nebuta House by Molo Design

Molo Design explain the work in their own words:

“Nebuta Matsuri, one of the three most famous and largest festivals in all of Japan, it is a form of storytelling during which heroes, demons and creatures from history and myth come to life as large-scale (9 x 7 x 5.5m) paper lanterns (Nebuta) illuminated from within. The Nebuta House is a dwelling for these mythical beings to reside. Each year the five best Nebuta, selected for their creative artistry and craftsmanship, will take the place of the five Nebuta selected from the previous year. Functionally the institution is meant to share the tradition, archive the history and nurture the future of this unique cultural art form. Located in front of Aomori train station, where the city meets the sea, the building opened January 5th, 2011.

The ribbon screen façade creates a sheltered outdoor perimeter space called the “engawa”, a spatial concept originating in traditional Japanese houses. In this case, a dwelling for giant paper heroes, demons and creatures, the engawa acts as a threshold between the contemporary world of the city and the world of history and myth. Shadows cast on the walls and floor through the exterior ribbons have the effect of creating a new material. Shadow and light become another screen – the convergence of material, light, shadow and reflection changing with the sun and weather.

Homogeneous, grey, box-like buildings constitute much of the surrounding cityscape. Commonplace objects like power lines and vending machines are dispersed throughout the uniformity. Here, the building appears as a vibrant curtain at the street’s end – activating the streetscape, transforming everyday experience into theatre. Bicycles and traffic passing by, city workers breaking to eat or children playing in the snow take on a quality of performance and play.

Inside, a shadowy dwelling for the Nebuta is shaped by the layers of screens and volumes of ancillary rooms. The volumetric juxtaposition accommodates many possible uses and perspectives. The interior is black, like a black box theatre. The abstraction of materiality, detail and colouring of the building allow visitors an intimate focus on the story being told. Luminous Nebuta appear suspended in the darkness of the hall, their vibrant colours reflected in the rippled, water-like floor. This is a subtle analogy to the last day of the festival when some of the Nebuta are set out to float on the sea.

Opening a set of giant sliding doors will connect the large volume of the Nebuta Hall with an upper level theatre and multi- purpose spaces below (for music, activities and exhibits) Providing a dynamic visual connection to the Nebuta during musical and theatrical performances, encouraging creative juxtapositions and flexible use. During major events, the towering Nebuta exit and enter the building through another giant sliding door. When sitting in the theater with both sets of sliding doors open, one can see the vibrant Nebuta below, and beyond, Aomori Harbour and the Hakkōda mountains.

Despite the challenges of designing an important cultural building while respecting a conservative budget, the evolution of the building’s type and program stands as symbolic foreshadowing of the many creative possibilities for use. Already, programming has demonstrated a broad range of uses: workshops, conferences and new cultural events are taking place. Perhaps the building can help to usher the time-honoured tradition of Nebuta into a contemporary era, offering a place to share ideas and bring creative minds together, even artists of different cultures and disciplines. The building elevates Nebuta in the public life of the city, celebrating the stories and impressive craft of the ephemeral paper floats and the people who make them.”