Food Hub Nest We Grow In Japan Built Under The Supervision Of Kengo Kuma Unites The Community
By Y-Jean Mun-Delsalle
14 February 2017
Photo courtesy Shinkenchiku-sha
A food hub that’s part garden, part kitchen, Nest We Grow’s primary purpose is to bring the community together to store, prepare and enjoy local foods in a welcoming and festive atmosphere that touches all five senses. An open, public structure, it was completed in just over six months under the supervision of Japanese architect Kengo Kuma and was conceived by six graduate students from the College of Environmental Design – Hsiu Wei Chang (M.Arch ‘14), Hsin-Yu Chen (M.Arch ‘17), Fanzheng Dong (M.Arch ‘14), Yan Xin Huang (BA Arch ‘10, M.Arch ‘16), Baxter Smith (M.Arch ‘16) and Max Edwards (M.Arch ‘14) – with the support of Professors of Architecture Dana Buntrock and Mark Anderson.
Nest We Grow transposes a Californian approach to an Asian setting, in particular considering how modest materials and actions are embraced in Berkeley and how this would work in a remote, rural part of Japan known for its extreme weather conditions, while paying tribute to the Japanese agricultural landscape of fields, forests and a river. The project won the 4th Annual LIXIL international design-build competition, an architectural contest searching for innovative, environmentally-friendly ideas that respond to the site and local culture, open to a limited number of universities, which results each year in the construction of an experimental building located in the Memu Meadows Center for Research on Environmental Technologies, a former horse racing farm in the village of Taiki on the island of Hokkaido.
“Our relationship to shared spaces and how they can influence the surrounding community come from our experiences in Berkeley. There is a natural vibe of a supportive community in Berkeley, which stems partly from the community gardens that are dotted around the neighborhoods,” said team member Hsin-Yu Chen. “These gardens not only act as open spaces in a fairly residential area, but also create improved meeting places for community members to engage with each other and the natural environment. The architecture of Berkeley speaks of a simple but well-crafted construction typology through the Arts and Crafts Movement that is still prominent in the area, which highlights traditional craftsmanship. We sought out this language for our design to take advantage of the materials and local craftsmanship still found in Japan.”
Wood was the main material employed, which acts as both structure and finish for most of the building. Glulam, or glue-laminated lumber, was used for the columns and beams, plywood for the floor surfaces and dimensional lumber for the planking used as walkways. A heavy timber construction technique using large sections of wood resulted in the composite column, which combines smaller pieces of wood to form a larger column, a method of joining materials being shaped by native carpentry traditions and the Japanese material market. Nine composite columns in locally-sourced laminated larch compose the main structure of the Nest, each formed from four 150 x 150 mm columns, linked by steel plates. Local craftsmen notched two pairs of 75 x 250 mm beams into the composite columns at regular distances, a technique stemming from traditional Japanese carpentry, which helps to bolster structural stability. The interior design and furniture such as concrete stools and wood benches were made using residual materials leftover from the construction process.
As the grasslands and wetlands of Taiki are conducive to the farming of wheat, vegetables and fruits and the catching of salmon and venison, the Nest takes into account indigenous knowledge and rituals surrounding food consumption and preservation methods, and aims to strengthen the sense of community. The building’s vertical wood frame structure makes visitors feel like they’re walking through a Japanese larch forest from which food like carrots, daikon radishes and salmon is suspended to grow and dry after being harvested from the neighboring farmland and harbor, thereby forming a floating food garden.
At its heart is a tea platform where people gather to admire and savor food around an open sunken fire pit, with planters incorporated into the floor in which vines are grown vertically up into the Nest, guided by hemp rope, in order to envelope the space. The ground level also hosts a large dining space, kitchen with log oven, water tank and storage space. Local vegetables are cultivated on the third and fourth floors, benefiting from the ideal light and thermal conditions during the growing season. Taiki farmers helped to transplant autumn wheat from adjacent plots to planters in the Nest, as it grows in winter and is an ingredient used to make bread.
The hand-plastered concrete walls doubling as staircases at the building base obstruct the prevailing northwest winter winds and contain pockets of soil for growing plants that are easily accessed for maintenance and harvesting, and their thermal mass reduces diurnal temperature swings. The Nest consumes practically no energy: The translucent, lightweight and undulating polycarbonate sheets on the façade and roof let in light for the plants, warming the interiors through passive solar heat gain during the day and the colder months – thereby extending the short growing season into the winter – while transforming into a welcoming beacon at night.
The relationship between indoor and outdoor is entirely fluid. The façade’s openness brings nature in the form of air, water and light inside the Nest, but it can also be closed off to create a division between them. Sliding panels in the façade and roof open to enable air movement throughout the space and release heat during the summer through cross ventilation and stack ventilation. The funnel-shaped roof collects rainwater and snowmelt in spring, which are stored in a tank and used for irrigation. Purlins on the roof help to support the weight of the snow, which creates an additional layer of insulation on top of the structure.
Self-sustainable and sustainable by means of its function, the Nest’s program depends on the life cycle of local foods – growing, harvesting, storing, cooking, eating and composting, which restarts the cycle – with community members’ participation integral to achieving each stage, therefore turning the space into a year-round platform for group learning and gathering activities.
“We think sustainability is an infinity loop of resource flows. This loop varies based on interactions among the lifestyles of local people, the weather and the environment. Nest We Grow demonstrates one type of sustainable loop for Taiki,” said Chen. “From building materials, construction methods and knowledge to plants, food and daily cuisine activities, every part was driven from the resources, culture and intelligence of Taiki.”
This idea of flows and circulation is dear to Kengo Kuma, who stated, “Architecture is an ensemble of small units; it’s the putting together of small units, which are in permanent circulation in the universe. My work is very close to the thinking of philosopher Bruno Latour who came up with the actor-network theory, which shows that the universe is made up of particles circulating constantly and that in these particles there are actors, which are either human beings, animals, nature or small units of architecture. What I like about Nest We Grow is that there are small units that gravitate around the center of the building, which is the hearth. On the side, there are salmon caught from the river nearby, vegetables from the adjacent field drying and other local products, and these small elements are all actors circulating: the actor network. All these actors coexist in harmony. Everything that is on this earth are actors, and we must work as much as possible with small units that correspond with our size as small actors in such a way that we blend in with nature, in opposition to the 20th century with its big, concrete and solid buildings.”