Atelier Tekuto & the new Boltun office
Atelier Tekuto – architectural practice run by the Japanese renewed architect Yasuhiro Yamashita and based in Tokyo – has recently completed the headquarters of the retail company Boltun. Built with a unique structure, resembling the mesh-like skin of cantaloupe, this project is a fascinating and inspiring example of a Japanese “micro-architecture”.
Grown in the paradisiac island of Amami Oshima, located in the southern part of Japan, architect
Yamashita states that “every life has its own role in the environment, humans included, and we are all interconnected”. This concept is always showcased in his projects, as well as the name of his office, Atelier Tekuto. The name is the acronym of three Japanese words: "TE, KU and TO(天工人)".
"TE(天)" stays for heaven, perhaps referred to the heavenly island of Amami, but commonly related to his approach to blending architecture and nature in his works. This concept is often recognisable in the works of renewed Japanese architects - such Kengo Kuma for example - whose works aims to align to the power of nature instead of fighting it with the weight of architecture.
The second concept is "KU (or KO / 工)", meaning technology. It is not only related to the technical innovation in engineering – which is, by the way, one of the main features of this project – but also to the use of local materials and construction methods.
Finally, "TO (or HITO / 人)", meaning people. Architecture is made for people, and every design should be strongly related to people’s needs. Atelier Tekuto always put people at the centre, involving them in any decision related to the project and placing collaboration at the core of the design process.
Also, the recent Boltun Headquarters project started from a close dialogue with the client. The request of the company – specialised in nuts and bolts - was to rebuild the existing warehouse and to create a new venue containing a warehouse, a showroom and an office. The site, located along an industrial street, came with the disadvantage of being extremely noisy and subject to tremors caused by heavy traffic.
For this reason, a concrete structure was chosen due to its fireproof and soundproof benefits. Inspired by the simple yet complex shape of the Boltun’s products (bolts and nuts), Yasuhiro Yamashita has generated an intricate concrete shell similar to the skin of a cantaloupe.
“My goal became to create 3-dimensionally connected spaces with “nuke (noo-kay)*” using continuous walls like a one-stroke drawing existing in one piece of architecture”.
The renewed structural engineer and professor Jun Sato – the talented professional behind many of the most celebrated Japanese buildings of the last two decades – was involved in this project from the very first stages.
This is a common strategy in Japan, a fruitful collaboration since the beginning between all the actors involved in the construction process. Since the budget for this project was about 60% of an average concrete building, architect Yamashita decided to adopt an innovative approach in the cost estimation.
Together with the contractor Shigeki Matsuoka, he distributed the total budget along with a list of categories to select the proper materials and architectural details. Following a design process similar to that of Unkei and Kaikei – the legendary Japanese sculptors of Buddha statues said to ‘excavate’ the shapes contained in wood pieces – Atelier Tekuto was also able to save the building weight by 60% compared to a regular structure.
“The result that emerged before my eyes was a unique structure resembling the mesh-like skin of a cantaloupe”, says Yamashita, “it was something I had never seen before, serene and refined as if I had carved out the Buddha in the structure”.
The final outcome is an architecture that stands out, despite its context (an industrial area, close to a fuel station) and the budget limitations. This is yet another proof of the Japanese’s architects ability in dealing with smallness and their unique talent in creating hidden treasures.