Australia House, a 100-year-old Japanese farmhouse-turned-art space, has been rebuilt after it collapsed in an earthquake.
Located in Urada, Niigata Prefecture, three hours north of Tokyo, the project was designed in 2012 by Australian architect Andrew Burns. With simple and clear geometry forms, the building’s exterior shape emulates the traditional roadside huts used in the area for communal storage.
The design was selected from 154 proposals in an international competition that. After the earthquake, the call went out for ideas for a new Australia House to be used for the contemporary international arts festival, which is held every three years in the Echigo-Tsumari region of Niigata Prefecture.
The competition’s brief called for a building of no more than 130 square metres that would provide exhibition and living areas for artists in residence. In addition, the building was intended to support the festival’s aim to revitalise an underpopulated region of rural Japan, incorporating in its design both Japanese and Australian cultural influences.
The house, which was constructed last year, is a small art exhibition and residential space laid out in a triangular-shaped floor plan. The different functions are accommodated on two separate levels.
On the ground floor, there are the exhibition areas and a small central pod for services, including a kitchen, a bathroom and a staircase. The next level features sleeping areas and a bathroom.
Weather conditions were key to the building’s design. During the cold season, the area can experience 1.5 metres of snow in a single day. The roof was built with a wide, steep incline, and the house was located close to the road to allow easy access during snowfall.
“It is difficult to form a triangle. However, it could create interesting architecture since it is difficult,” said architect Tadao Ando, chair of the competition’s jury. “I find the approach to the house attractive and different elements well arranged. The idea of dealing with snow is thoughtful, considering that the site is located in a heavy snowfall region. It would be fantastic if only the triangular roof was visible as the rest of the house is covered with three-metre-high snow.”
Inside the house, the steeply pitched roof form creates a tall gallery space within a compact space. Floors and walls are made of wood, adding a sense of warmth to interior spaces.
Australia House won the 2013 IDEA Award in the International Project category, where the jury said the gallery, studio and atelier alternates between the familiar presence of a rural dwelling and that of an art object.
“The mysterious blackened timber exterior contrasts to the warm honey-coloured timber interior – providing an unexpected sense of welcome and warmth. A synthesis of Japanese and Australian architectural traditions, elements of both the Australian Georgian farmhouse and the Japanese Minka are present,” the jury said.
The project has been supported by the Tokamachi City Government, the Australia-Japan Foundation, International Culture Appreciation and Interchange Society, Inc., the Australian Embassy Tokyo and local residents.