The Project in a Small Japanese Village Setting the Standard for Zero-Waste Architecture

© Laurian Ghinitoiu © Laurian Ghinitoiu

Nestled in the steep gorges and river valleys of Japan’s Tokushima prefecture is Kamikatsu - a small town seemingly like any other. But Kamikatsu, unlike its neighbors (or indeed, most towns in the world), is nearly entirely waste-free.

Since 2003 - years before the movement gained widespread popularity - the town has committed to a zero-waste policy. The requirements are demanding: waste must be sorted in more than 30 categories, broken or obsolete items are donated or stripped for parts, unwanted items are left in a store for community exchange. But the residents’ efforts over the years have paid off- nearly 80% of all the village’s waste is recycled.

© Laurian Ghinitoiu © Laurian Ghinitoiu

This may set a unique and exciting precedent for similar efforts around the world but it also poses a unique challenge for construction, a notoriously wasteful process.

When Hiroshi Nakamura & NAP were asked to create a new public house in the town, they were intrigued by what building could be in a zero-waste context. Nakamura, who was identified by Kengo Kuma as one of architecture’s emerging talents, has long been interested in the uncomfortable friction between architecture and waste. For him, architecture’s greatest challenge is “...to produce a successful critique of capitalism. To escape the commodification of architecture.” So it’s perhaps no wonder that pursuing a project in Kamikatsu - a small and isolated town that might not have piqued the interest of other designers - was an obvious choice for Nakamura.

© Laurian Ghinitoiu © Laurian Ghinitoiu
© Laurian Ghinitoiu © Laurian Ghinitoiu

The Kamikatz Public House itself is an unassuming structure; the wood-paneled facade and low profile allow it to blend into its domestic context. The program is more unique; equal parts brewery, pub, store, and community center. While the combination may seem an odd choice, Nakamura & NAP saw its as a way to provide a communal space that was both sociable and positively productive.

© Laurian Ghinitoiu © Laurian Ghinitoiu

Inside, the more technical components of beer production are organized in a kind of spatial chronology: first is the material warehouse, followed by the brewery and culminating in the large pub space itself. It’s here that you’ll find the building’s most iconic element: a large window that is in fact many windows, all recycled from other structure in and around the town.

© Laurian Ghinitoiu © Laurian Ghinitoiu

“We gathered windows that illuminated the town in the past,” explain the architects in the project description. “..[it was] our wish that they would serve as a lantern of hope to shine upon the town struggling with a declining population.”

This civically-minded design element not only fulfills the low-waste requirement but is intended to instill and reflect a sense of local pride. Visitors can identify different structures from the town in the windows; it is a kind of urban history within a building.

© Laurian Ghinitoiu © Laurian Ghinitoiu
© Laurian Ghinitoiu © Laurian Ghinitoiu
© Laurian Ghinitoiu © Laurian Ghinitoiu

To Nakamura & NAP, this pride was an essential ingredient in the architecture. Just as the town’s recycling efforts requires community input and coordination, so does the design and construction of a building. The architects took into account resident input throughout the process, establishing the space as a community asset from its very inception. Even the interior furnishings were reclaimed from homes in the area, giving it the atmosphere of an extended and shared urban living room.

© Laurian Ghinitoiu © Laurian Ghinitoiu
© Laurian Ghinitoiu © Laurian Ghinitoiu
© Laurian Ghinitoiu © Laurian Ghinitoiu

Since construction completed in 2015, the building has become an essential character in the town - and one as frugal and friendly as its users. "...By embodying the town’s vision within everyday life, the locals who gather at this pub are beginning to truly realize that their actions are fun and creative," explains Nakamura. So too is the architecture. 

© Laurian Ghinitoiu © Laurian Ghinitoiu