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Za-Koenji Theatre by Toyo Ito

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A review by the AJ’s sister title the Architectural Review of Za-Koenji Theatre by Toyo Ito. Photography by Edmund Sumner

The Za-Koenji Public Theatre is a top-heavy black iceberg of a building, set in the commercial district of Suginami City, in the western part of Tokyo. Constrained on a tight plot and subject to strict height restrictions, the building’s flamboyant black steel skin cloaks a six-storey structure, three below ground.

It demonstrates architect Toyo Ito’s increasingly expressive use of complex geometries, articulated by thin skins, as seen in his other recent projects, such as the crematorium in Kakamigahara (AR August 2007).

It also has an unmistakable resonance with Hans Scharoun’s 1963 Berlin Philharmonie. In reality, however, it shares none of the German building’s internal spatial virtuosity. Essentially square in plan, in this instance the meringue-like peaks and shallow craters are deployed to transform an otherwise static plan and black box that packs in a surprising amount of publicly accessible accommodation.

Main public entrance

Main public entrance

The building replaces the original Koenji hall (a dull and decrepit 200-seat multi-purpose auditorium) and contains three new performance spaces. On the ground-floor entrance level is the main space, Za-Koenji 1, a highly specialised small theatre for professionals. Two levels below sits Za-Koenji 2, a rentable stage for general public use. And on the same level, but breaking out from the boundary of the square plan, is a new space specifically designed for Awa Odori staging and rehearsals (Awa Odori is the largest dance festival in Japan). The lowest level maintains the plan’s eccentricity, including three rehearsal spaces, wardrobe, workshop and even car parking.

Ito likens the building to ‘a tent cabin’, and has developed the steel plate, reinforced concrete construction technique employed at Ito’s Tama Art University Library (AR August 2007) for both walls and roof; a technique that essentially uses steel plate as permanent shuttering/reinforcement, with large steel templates cut to form the profile of walls, floors and roof, rather like cloth panels from a tailor’s fabric pattern.

Concrete is then cast against and/or around the steel plate, providing a composition of sufficient stability and sound insulation, while maintaining a relatively thin cross-sectional depth. At Tama, concrete encased steel, but here steel is exposed, with 12mm steel plate on roof and 9mm on walls, finished with a satin fluororesin coating.

Architect Toyo Ito & Associates, Tokyo
Structural engineer Sasaki Structural Consultants
Mechanical engineer Kanko Engineering
Acoustic design Nagata Acoustics
Lighting design Light Design
Furniture design Fujie Kazuko Atelier

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