K Maekawa’s International House as a paragon to reevaluate architectural preservation and restoration strategies

By Wafaa Wajihah Mohammad Rosmadini, AUN Intern
16 Novemeber 2020

The fundamental spirit of an international house of Japan is to promote cultural exchanges between people of diverse countries. The basic function of the house was as an accommodation and a clubhouse space for its members. The layout of international houses in Japan usually adheres to the chinese geomancy, ‘Feng Shui’ which positions houses on hill slopes or hill plateaus with the inclusion of a landscape or garden. The site for K Maekawa’s International House has transcended through a series of historical ownership changes and land developments since the Japanese Edo era from a local lord to the royal family. The origin of the idea to construct an international house came from the encounter of John D. Rockefeller III with an internationalist, Shigeharu Matsumoto at the third conference of the Institute of Pacific Relations held in Kyoto in 1929. They realised the importance of the cultural dimension within international affairs between the US and Japan thus, agreed on a constructional contract and bilateral donation support to build the international house.

By 1955, the construction of the K Maekawa’s International House was completed, embodying the collaborative architectural design made by leading architects: Junzo Sakakura, Kunio Maekawa and Junzo Yoshimura. The three architects had distinct styles of architectural design preference with Yoshimura diving into Japanese style design, Sakakura into the more french inspired modern pavilion and Maekawa into concrete-surface (modernism) style of design like government buildings. The international house got criticized for resembling a Japanese ryokan style hotel for its cheap, ration and mono-pavilion design. Despite such criticism, the house received an award from the Architectural Institute of Japan in 1955.

After a sequence of constructional additions and developments, the building got partially destroyed during the Great Kobe Earthquake in 1995 due to its poor management and foundation. The disaster prompted a comprehensive revision of its ‘building code’ with more strict Seismic standards and earthquake-resistant structural integrity. This initiated an intervention and dialogue between the owner of the international house and the trustee board members of the Architectural Institute of Japan (AIJ). There had been great external pressure to demolish the house but after further deliberation amongst the owner and the AIJ trustee board members, the initial decision to demolish was retracted. They understood that choosing to preserve has cultural, nostalgic values as well as economic benefits. A new design team was set up for conservation and restoration consisting of Professor Kobayashi, Sakata, Imagawa and Mitsubishi design & co. The preservation and restoration features of the building include a revised seismic strengthening system as well as the Integration and incorporation of high construction technology. The newly restored K Maekawa’s International House finally got completed and had its grand opening in 2006.

Professor Kobayashi emphasized that the creation of an architectural program or design needs to be inclusive of future generational progression, disasters and modernisation as mono-pavilion blueprint offers limited flexibility for structural renovation and development. He reiterated that in a sustainable sense, preservation and renovation should take into account the authenticity and multi-use nature of the building by reevaluating architectural preservation and restoration strategies and taking the owner's perspective into consideration.