UNEMORI ARCHITECTS has completed the ‘sukagawa community center’ in fukushima, a 13,698 sqm (147,444 sqft) multipurpose building complex housing a library, a museum, a lecture hall, childcare support, as well as a café amongst others. the project has been developed as part of a municipal reconstruction project to revitalize the severely damaged city center after the great east japan earthquake of 2011. built in collaboration with ishimoto architectural & engineering firm, the five-story building is characterized by open floor setbacks, cantilevered slabs and an activity-based floor plan.

the sukagawa community center houses a wide range of cultural and recreational activities that seek to regenerate community life and establish a long-lasting and versatile relationship between the city and its citizens. activity themes such as ‘raise’, ‘play’, ‘create’, ‘learn’ and ‘meet’, divide the multipurpose building into different areas of action, while conventional library categories are reclassified to create a completely new system. ‘together with the library stuff, we edited out about 250,000 books from scratch into a new classification original to sukagawa city,’ hiroyuki unemori, founder of UNEMORI ARCHITECTS, tells designboom in a zoom interview.

UNEMORI ARCHITECTS on building sukagawa community center after japan's earthquakeall images by kawasumi・kobayashi kenji photograph office

header image by kai nakamura

together with ishimoto architectural & engineering firm, UNEMORI ARCHITECTS developed the sukagawa community center as a complex structural system. the building is designed as an interlocked structure based on different floor slabs, which are divided into small sections and staggered to form an incremental setback on the site facing the historic main street. its interior is characterized by an open floor plan and offset floor levels that partly appear to float freely in the cavity of the center. this intricate structural system is made possible through a steel frame megastructure, which is placed on the third and fourth floors.

designboom spoke with hiroyuki unemori, founder of UNEMORI ARCHITECTS, about designing a community building after a great natural disaster, and how they reorganized the entire japanese library system to create something unique for the city of sukagawa. read the interview in full below.UNEMORI ARCHITECTS on building sukagawa community center after japan's earthquake

designboom (DB): the sukagawa community center was developed in the wake of the great east japan earthquake of march 11, 2011. how does the new design respond to future natural disasters?

UNEMORI ARCHITECTS (UA): the sukagawa community center is a project after the great earthquake in east japan, and that’s why we tried to approach it in both a hard and soft way. for hard design, we stacked a series of slabs and shifted them to the side in order to create exterior terraces. this allows us, in case of a disaster, to evacuate the building through the exterior terraces and staircases. also, within the current coronavirus situation, the interior can be better ventilated by not only the terraces but also the large windows. as for soft design, this building has become a base for many generations of citizens, from children to elderly people, who can visit and work in this building on a daily basis. by doing so, you can see the faces of the citizens and understand the building. such daily use functions effectively for evacuation and mutual help in the event of a disaster.UNEMORI ARCHITECTS on building sukagawa community center after japan's earthquake

DB: what were the demands and challenges, if any, of designing a building to revitalize the destroyed city center of sukagawa city?

UA: after the earthquake, the city was so deserted that most of the people walking around had disappeared. therefore, by creating many terraces, we made it possible to see people directly from the city and I wanted to encourage the city with the appearance of people working in this building. I also wanted to create a building that would allow one to walk around the city and be continuous with the city. sukagawa is a city with many slopes, and this site also has level differences of about 2.5 meters between east and west. in order to connect the level differences, the floor on the first level was made into a slope as a whole so that one could pass through the building and connect the city. however, such terraces and sloped floors are very difficult to realize in japanese public facilities for reasons such as safety. but we managed to achieve this project through a lot of discussions with the people involved.UNEMORI ARCHITECTS on building sukagawa community center after japan's earthquake

DB: what were the public’s demands and how did you integrate them into the design concept? what activities does the floor plan of the multi-purpose building enclose?

UA: about 35 public workshops were held from the start of the design to the completion of the building, and 1,400 opinions were raised. there were various and many demands, and some of them were a little crazy, like wanting a hot spring or a planetarium. however, when we listened to these opinions, many of them crossed functions, such as wanting to teach food, or education in the form of a cooking class, and that it would be nice if the children’s playground and library were nearby. perhaps after the earthquake we realized that there was a potential demand among citizens to connect with someone. after that workshop, we reconsidered a complex facility that had only different functions until then to create a new architecture with integrated functions. this building is mainly a multifunctional complex of libraries and a community center with childcare support. therefore, we tried to decompose it into activities and reclassify them into nine themes. books are arranged according to each theme. the entire building is a library, forming an integrated architecture that is a place of activity. for example, we arranged books about making things in the immediate vicinity of the craft room. in addition, books on cooking were placed near the cooking studio, and books such as picture books were placed in the indoor playground. by doing so, even if children are not interested in books, they will still encounter these books. also the opposite could happen; the people coming to take books can encounter those activities.