WE asked ourselves
WHAT WE CAN DO AND WHAT SHOULD BE DONE
In 2011 the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami swept away thousands of homes and lives in a matter of minutes, leaving deep scars on the hearts of those affected. In the aftermath, the impacted area faced shortages of skilled builders as well as construction materials and heavy equipment, impeding the path to reconstruction.
In response, Hiroto Kobayashi, professor of architecture at Keio University, and his students searched for ways to contribute to the recovery. Together they developed a new construction system that ordinary citizens could build quickly, inexpensively, and easily with locally available materials.
This is how the Veneer House Project started.
A SELF-BUILD ARCHITECTURE SYSTEM
Kobayashi’s team began by investigating the potential of plywood (known as “veneer” in Japan) — an excellent construction material that can be found at affordable prices anywhere in the world. Plywood is made with accurate dimensions and high material strength, which minimizes warping overtime. In addition, plywood can be made from forest thinnings, parts of trees that might otherwise go unused. Using plywood as a structural material cuts waste and sequesters carbon from the atmosphere, reducing stress on the environment.
The Veneer House system is composed of plywood components that are pre-cut using saws or CNC routers. The assembly of these components is simple enough to enable people to construct buildings on their own without relying on special skills or equipment.
IN BRINGING ARCHITECTURE CLOSER
Architecture has developed into an extremely specialized, technically advanced field, but this has created a distance between buildings and their users. In order to restore the connection between people and the built environment, we believe that people should become involved in the process of construction itself.
Through the many Veneer House projects, we have learned that when community members work cooperatively to construct a building, local knowledge and culture are inherited, which deepens their attachment to the building and the community at large. It is possible to foster a sense of collective ownership of a building by making the problem of its construction one’s own.
We believe in bringing architecture closer to people.
How can we bring architecture closer to people? How can we bring people closer to each other? Here we introduce the Veneer House methods that we have developed in response to these challenges.
Simplicity is the key to the Veneer House system. People can assemble a Veneer House building like a plastic model kit, with no professional expertise or specialized equipment.
Since plywood is an accessible material around the world, the building components can be produced anywhere. The data used for the production of these components can be processed by any CNC router, so the production and supply of a Veneer House is not centralized. Whoever wants to use the systems can produce Veneer Houses whenever and wherever they want.
The Veneer House’s structural frame is made out of pre-cut plywood components, but we try to tailor the exterior cladding of each building to the local climate and culture. Sometimes this means adopting local materials and construction methods.
Rather than appear out of place, a completed Veneer House should feel familiar to local people. Indigenous materials and construction methods enable local people to repair the building exterior with their own hands, further reducing the need for outside labor, equipment, and expertise. The Veneer House aims to produce an architecture that harmonizes with the surrounding landscape and nurtures a sense of locality and community.
The essence of the Veneer House system is to make architecture more familiar to people by encouraging them to join in the construction process. We have organized various types of workshops to help introduce people to the system. These include explanatory workshops using scale architectural models for both construction personnel and local people. We have also held workshops in which large groups of people can join to assemble a building or fragment of a building together. For children too young to participate in the actual construction, we prepare toy kits with the same panel system to promote understanding of the Veneer House system.
We try to create opportunities for as many people to engage in the construction process as possible, regardless of their abilities.
Because the Veneer House Project originated in the reconstruction efforts of the Great East Japan Earthquake, we have developed it to be effective as a temporary shelter or a gathering place in emergency situations. However, storing plywood components just for the sake of emergencies would create large storage costs. Conversely, making design decisions, securing materials, and cutting plywood into components after a disaster occurs will consume valuable time.
As such, we are making Veneer House products available for purchase during ordinary times so that they could be temporarily collected and rapidly deployed after emergencies. Therefore, we keep a list of Veneer House kit owners who are willing to consider providing their kits to people in need during emergencies.