Atelier Hitoshi Abe + Kume Sekkei Co., Ltd. - Naruse-Ouka Elementary School, designed as a hub for resilience
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Naruse-Ouka Elementary School, designed as a hub for resilience

Atelier Hitoshi Abe + Kume Sekkei Co., Ltd.

Education  /  Completed
Atelier Hitoshi Abe + Kume Sekkei Co., Ltd.
Naruse-Ouka Elementary is a new variation of an elementary school hybrid with a community center and resilience hub, and was the winner of a design competition sponsored by Higashi-Matsushima town in 2017. The three driving characteristics of the project are (1) its purpose as flexible learning space that honors Japan’s traditional disciplinary learning style while opening it up for new types of education and interaction; (2) its function as a center for emergency shelter and disaster resilience; and (3) its role as a community hub, both now and in a future with a projected decline of the population of children in the area.

The spaces in the facility are consolidated in order to create a sense of interaction among the different programs and its efficient management. The design enables the traditional disciplinary education of Japan while also challenging those norms and opening up opportunities for more creative and informal modes of learning. The rows of classrooms, which house the traditional Japanese education, are situated in between the corridor and terrace, both which offer more informal educational opportunities. The corridor is extra-wide, about half the width of a classroom, and lined with several features such as water corner, pin-up walls and furniture that enable it to become a space where different subjects and groups of students interact. The large terrace on the second floor and balconies on the third floor are directly connected to the classrooms to allow activities to spill out into the open air for more self-directed study as well as enjoyment of the natural scenery. The kitchens are placed in a way that meals can be enjoyed either in the classroom (as is the tradition), in the large halls, or outside. Multipurpose rooms placed in several key areas are flexible to adapt to both current and future needs, and currently contain equipment for the study of specific subjects. The design utilizes a functional and aesthetic porosity that allows spaces to interact while remaining separate when necessary.

This project combines two elementary schools which were destroyed in the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. It is the final elementary school in the area to be rebuilt after students have been learning in temporary structures for the past 11 years. The building is designed as a hub for resilience, with programmatic areas of the school serving a secondary purpose in case of a disaster. In a disaster scenario, the multipurpose hall situated near the entrance becomes the center for the distribution of information and resources to community members. The hall is centrally located to the loading bay, which is used for the delivery of emergency supplies, the kitchen/home economics classroom, which is becomes a center for meal preparation for the community, and the gymnasium and athletic fields which are used for temporary shelter for those who have been displaced. Skylights flood the building with natural light which minimizes the use of the emergency electricity supply during the day. This functional and symbolic resilience built into the architecture will help bring a feeling of peace and security to a community that has been in a transitional mode for the past decade.

The building is also designed as a community hub, both for now and in the predicted event of a decline in the population of children attending the school. Currently it works both as a school and a community center, with a diagonal axis that separates functions and allows them to coexist without interrupting each other, while allowing for different degrees of openness to the public. Separate entrances for students and community members ensure that the coexistence of these two populations does not disrupt the educational process. Fire separation walls, which can be closed or opened as needed, provide an extra layer of security to separate the student spaces from community spaces when the building is partially opened to the public, and the location of faculty and staff offices allow the managing entity of the building control the level of public access to spaces in the school based on the specific circumstances. The multipurpose and community spaces are clustered around the gymnasium, which may be used for performances or other events, and have direct entrances off of the parking lot. The kitchen built in to the area outside of the pool provides the infrastructure for events and a space to cook for members of the community who are utilizing the campgrounds and nature preserve located on the site, which is currently in the planning phase. The spatial adjacencies are planned in a way that allows community functions to gradually take over a part or all of the building over time as the population ages, turning into more of a community-oriented space for meetings, workshops, coworking and adult education.

The Naruse-Ouka Elementary school project is a functional prototype for the school of the future, with respect to tradition and a new imagination of how education buildings can serve and interface with their communities. It brings together traditional Japanese modes of learning and innovative informal ones, the community and the students, and everyday life with the possibility of disaster striking the region again.


 Higashi Matsushima City, Miyagi Prefecture
 Higashi Matsushima City
 6977 mq
 Atelier Hitoshi Abe + Kume Sekkei Co., Ltd.
 Atelier Hitoshi Abe + Kume Sekkei Co., Ltd.
 Maruka Kensetsu Corporation
 studio (landscape)
 Kawasumi Kobayashi Kenji Photograph Office Co.,Ltd


Founded in 1992, AHA (Atelier Hitoshi Abe) is guided by a fundamental belief in architecture as a platform for cultural, social and formal innovation. The firm’s work transcends a single architectural style through a direct, empathetic response to the unique conditions and demands of each project. With offices in Sendai, Japan, and Los Angeles, AHA is a global practice that has a reverence for the authentic and strives for an honest expression of form.
AHA has been published internationally and received numerous awards including the 2011 Japan Society for Finishing Technology Award for the F-town Building, the 2009 Architectural Institute of Japan Award for the Kanno Museum, the 2007 World Architecture Award for the Kanno Museum, the 2003 Architectural Institute of Japan Award for Reihoku Community Hall, the 2003 Business Week and Architectural Record Award for Sekii Ladies Clinic and the 2001 Building Contractors Society Award for Miyagi Stadium.


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