Architect: Toyo Ito and associates
Structure Engineer : Mutsuro Sasaki
Location: Kagamigahara Gifu, Japan
Project year : 2006
With a line of wooded hills at its back and flanks, its form reflected in the still water of the artificial lake, it stand as a calm and contemplative place in which observe the rituals of cremation and honour the dead.
Designed by Toyo Ito in collaboration with structure engineer Mutsuro, Ito has taken the game on notch up. The master architect has sought to dematerialize all sense of formal structure by ” floating” over the landscape a vast undulating shell in which to shelter the ceremonial funtions of the crematorium. And though the roof appears free in form which was realized through rigorous structural analysis.
The Idea began with a series of simple sketches of a flowing reinforced concrete shell which combined a billowing structure and columns struck as a single, uniform surface. It was conceived, Ito says, “It is not as a conventional massive crematorium but as architecture of a spacious roof floating above the site like slowly drifting clouds, creating a soft field”.
Structure engineer Mutsuro Sasaki worked out how to build it. Sasaki, who also engineered Ito’s Sendai Mediatheque, uses a computational method of evolving and testing “shape design” so that you arrive at the most efficient structure solution.
The method uses an algorithm which, Sasaki says” Involves generating rational structure shapes within a computer by using principles of evolution and self- organization of living structure from an engineer standing point”. What all means in layman’s term is that the architect comes up with the shapes, Sasaki number crunches it, tests it through computer modeling and comes up with a better, more beautiful, more elegant, more economic form, and tells the architect how to build it up.
“We designed with consideration for the relationship with surrounding landscape” Itosays” We determined the degree of a various bumps on the roof according the ceiling height required in each interior space of the building. Then we made an initial digital model with which we did a series of structure analysis tests to find the best form that achieves the best structural solution.”
The most economic material, in this instance, was reinforced concrete. The challenge was how to build the various curved formwork sections and taped columns with absolute precision.
To achieve that Sasaki’s digitized data and computer model were sent to a work form specialist who produced each section.
The form of the roof was determined precisely, using 3700 check points on the grid. It was constructed by continually cross checking the position of all points, one by one, with laser level finder, to ensure a consistent depth for 200 mm thickness of concrete, which a tolerance of only 10mm. The process was crucial for both the design and the structure. The roof was completed in five separate pours, using quick-setting mixture to eliminate the possibility of the concrete sliding off the curving section. Once hardened, all joints marks were removed with grinding machines and the entire surface trowelled with mortar to create a single surface. A flexible water proofing urethane layer was added later to compensate for any slight movement in the concrete surface.
The result is an architecture of remarkable lightness, of uplifting fluidity. It is timeless and contemplative at all the same time. But the starring role belongs to the roof. All 2270 square meters of it, which floats overhead in peaks and troughs, as a single sheet of billowing almost impossibly thin reinforce white concrete.
The roof’s form is a fine balance of functional, servicing, structural and aesthetic requirements. Freely dispersed columns which dropped seamlessly from the undulating ceiling which rises as high as 11.5 meters in parts. The columns conceal storm water drains and appear to have been cast as one with the roof. The roof canopy extends to protect a screen of 19mm glass encasing the entire building. The interior plan is organized around a regular arrangement of rectilinear functional and ceremonial rooms placed between the columns as windowless, top-lit boxes of travertine stone. Beyond the entrance, visitors access two areas where mourners pay their last respects. A corridor lead to waiting rooms and a hall before entering the cremation zone. Detailing is subtly and there is a clean formal relationship between all parts of the building.
“Meiso no Mori was planned to reconstruct a decrepit crematorium as part of a cemetery in a park. This cemetery is located in a serene site, nestled in mountains with various trees and plants in the south and facing a pond in the north. The design brief called for a sublime space, appropriate to give last honours to the deceased, while subtly integrating the surrounding landscape of the park cemetery. Our idea was to respond not with a conventional massive crematorium but with architecture of a spacious roof floating above the site like slowly drifting clouds creating a soft field.We investigated a freely curved reinforced concrete shell to construct a roof characterized by concavities and convexities. The shape of the roof was determined by an algorithm generating the optimum structural solution. Since this type of structural analysis resembles the growth of patterns of plants which keep transforming following simple natural rules, we call the process “evolution”. Several hundred such evolutionary cycles produced the final shape. The curved line becomes landscape, in line with the edge silhouette of the surrounding mountains. Four structural cores and twelve cone columns with built-in rainwater collection pipes are positioned evenly under the roof structure. Ceremonial spaces are placed between the cores and columns. The smooth roof line also articulates the ceiling of the interior. Indirect light softly illuminates the curved ceiling and spreads in all directions with expressive nuances of light.”