During Malaysian Institute of Interior Designers (MIID) Annual Ball & Awards on the 16th November 2018 held in Kuala Lumpur, I won a special award from Aoyama Design Forum (ADF) and MIID which included a research trip to Tokyo, Japan. This report is a diary of the 9 days I spent in Tokyo, out of which 3 days were spent with representatives from the ADF and GARDE International.

MIID & ADF Special Award 2018 Projetct: THE GRANARY, KUCHING, SARAWAK

ADF-MIID-Award-The Granary


Day 1 - Monday 2 March 2019

Fuji Kindergarten, Tachikawa

We set off early from the Nippon Seinenkan Hotel in Shinjuku-ku at 7:00am to catch the train to visit the Fuji Kindergarten (ふじようちえん) in Tachikawa designed by Tezuka Architects. Even though we had arrived late the night before from Kuala Lumpur, we knew it would be our only chance to visit the kindergarten as it is only open to the public twice in a year. It so happened that the kindergarten was conducting an Open Day that coincided with our trip. After 2 train changes and a 15 minute walk from Tachikawa Station, we arrived at the Fuji Kindergarten at 9:00am and there was already a large crowd forming. Visitors from around the world had come to visit - educators, tourists, curious parents - there was even a small group from Malaysia that had come to visit!


Aerial view of the roof deck where the children can run above the classrooms several times during the day.

The tour started with a video presentation in Japanese, followed by a short speech from the principal. After that we were free to walk around the grounds and the building. The entire building is a ring where all the classrooms look into the central courtyard. There is no play equipment in the courtyard; instead the building resembles one large playground itself. Children can play and run around the roof area above the classrooms, and there are even skylights that bring natural light into the classrooms. There are even some existing trees scattered throughout the classrooms, and they form small courtyards where there are nets for the children to lie on and play around the trees on the roof level. They also provide children with a porthole to peek at their classmates form above or below in the classrooms.


The trees have nets around them for the children to walk over the courtyard and play around the trees.

There is a strong sense that the building and spaces within have been designed purposefully to suit a child’s scale. The ceiling height in the classrooms is low for normal standards - the roof height is only 2.1 metres tall. However, one hardly feels any discomfort when they are inside the classrooms. This is because there are large sliding doors that are kept fully open when the weather or season permits, allowing constant interaction and seamless connectivity with the outdoors and natural elements. This close connection between the levels enables the children to access the roof easily as they only have to climb a set of stairs. There is also a slide from the roof deck where the children can slide down from the roof to the ground in the central courtyard.


The slide that starts at the roof deck where the children can slide down to the central courtyard.


Interestingly enough, there are no walls that divide the classrooms as well. Instead, there are light-weight timber boxes that can be stacked to create shelves for storage or display. Instead of imposing physical boundaries normally found in schools, the building has been designed to form a continuous, uninterrupted flow of space that encourages free play and learning from the environment, not just inside a classroom.


There are no full-height wall divisions between classrooms. Instead, furniture is used to define boundaries and space for different functions.


Courtyards with existing trees are scattered throughout the classrooms, further blurring the boundaries between inside and outside.

The school follows the Montessori Method, an educational approach where children are given the freedom to learn via discovery from their surroundings instead of in a traditional classroom. The principal explained an example - in the central courtyard there are water taps for the children to wash their hands after they play. There are no basins and on the floor there are round timber logs set in the grass to form a hard floor surface. When the children turn on the tap, the water will fall and splatter onto the ground. The children will realise that if they turn the water taps on too strongly, they will have to take a step back as more water will splatter onto them from the floor. They will then learn to adjust the strength of the water that comes out of the taps so that the water doesn’t splatter onto them. This simple and inexpensive teaching method helps the children to learn how to use a simple water tap effectively as well as teaching them not to waste water.


Water taps in courtyard teach children how to control and turn on taps manually.

Fuji Kindergarten shows that architecture and design can work hand-in-hand with the school in order to provide a built environment where the children can interact with and learn from as well. It shows how our built environment can have an enormous influence on how we learn, play, work and live. Outstanding design outcomes are not judged only by construction quality or fulfilling budget constraints. Rather, if the result of a well-designed building has a positive effect that benefits the inhabitants of the space, both current and in the future, that alone defines what a successful piece of architecture or design is.


Children are free to play in the open courtyard that is central to the design. The classrooms are seamless with the exterior.


Tama Art University Library, Hachioji Campus

The same day we visited the Fuji Kindergarten, we took a train to visit the Tama Art University in Hachioji. We were there to visit the Tama Art University Library designed by Toyo Ito & Associates, Architects. The library is not far from the main entrance; however the building’s distinct large arched windows on the facade were instantly recognisable from a distance. In  front of the library there is a garden with minimal amount of trees, and the ground has a gentle slope that stretches up to the building.


The corners of the building appear razor sharp against the sky.

One is immediately drawn to the majestic-looking structure that looks like there are two bridges with arches stacked on top of each other. It is an elegant building with reinforced concrete curved wall surfaces that extrude upwards from the ground. The arched windows that wrap all four sides of the building reflect the sky beautifully in the day and the corners of  the building appear thin and razor sharp. From the outside, one can see the concrete arches continuing into the interior space. There is a cafeteria on the ground level when one enters the building as well as a large gallery that serves as a kind of thoroughfare for people crossing the campus. As we walked across the gallery, we began to realise that the floor was sloped as well; a continuation of the seamless flow of space from the front garden into the library. One feels that they are still within the scenery of the garden when they in fact inside the library.


The curved glass and concrete façade with its arched windows reflect the surroundings and sky above.

We weren’t allowed to take photographs inside the building; however visitors can make appointments with the library staff to visit. There are many interior pictures of the library on the internet, so we were quite familiar with what it looked like. However, the feeling of being in the actual space was quite breathtaking. As expected, it was extremely quiet, but the silence only added to the ethereal quality of the space. Its’ characteristic soaring concrete arches span across different widths - some longer than 10 metres. The arches cross at several points and create intersections that help to softly articulate different zones within the floor plate. Where there is a need for separation, there is never a solid boundary that divides the spaces. Instead, there are metal grilled screens that act as partitions to fill the void below the arches, or book shelves that curve and bend to form dividers that are just tall enough to reach your head. This ensures that there is spatial continuity even when there is a need to define different zones.


The front garden slopes upwards to the main entrance, where one can see the arches continuing inside the building.

With constant natural light filling the interior space, there is minimal use of direct artificial lighting. A minimal material and colour palette is utilised - concrete, white painted steel, glass and charcoal-coloured carpet. The library feels like a silent, sacred space that flows quietly from one realm to another - similar to walking through a forest or cave. The arches create arcade-like spaces where one passes through, discovering their own ways to interact with the meandering books and reading materials found in the library.


The corners of the building appear razor sharp against the sky.

to be continued