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Aspirations for a Living Architectural Culture at YKK AP

Mr. Miyazawa served as an editor at Nikkei Architecture for approximately thirty years and chief editor for four. He is now an independent editor, illustrator, and writer. He visited the YKK Group's architectural projects in Kurobe City, Toyama Prefecture, and asked YKK AP corporate advisor Tadahiro Yoshida about his thoughts on architecture.

Aspirations for a Living Architectural Culture at YKK AP

Hiroshi Miyazawa

Nikkei Architecture
Former Chief Editor

Tadahiro Yoshida

YKK AP corporate advisor

Miyazawa:I cannot think of another architectural products manufacturer in Japan that demonstrates the quality of its own products in its own buildings, like your company has done. Also, all the buildings have wonderful spaces, and from the exterior to the buildings themselves, they are very well maintained and managed. I suppose you can't keep on doing this without affection for architecture. Mr. Yoshida, I understand that you played a leading role in creating this architecture. The first project was the Maezawa Garden House designed by Mr. Fumihiko Maki, is that right?

Yoshida:That's correct. Mr. Maki was the first famous architect from whom we commissioned a design. The Maezawa Garden House was planned as an international dormitory for the overseas employees to stay at. Among the candidates for the architect, and considering Mr. Maki's experience in overseas and his architecture studies in the U.S., I thought he would be the best for this project.

Mr. Miyazawa (right) and Mr. Yoshida (left) stand in front of the YKK50 Building

 In the beginning the project was half the size of what it eventually became, and people told me I was a fool if I thought that Mr. Maki would accept such a small project outside a major city. But when I reached out to him and we met face-to-face, I told him that even though the project was small we really wanted to make a special, outstanding building, and we had a very good conversation. I was greatly encouraged when he told me that architects don't just want to build big buildings, and that he would take the commission because the project was so interesting.
 During the design process, too, Mr. Maki did his very best to take on my input and feedback. It was truly my blessing to have met him.

Mr. Miyazawa (right) and Mr. Yoshida (left) stand in front of the YKK50 Building

The story behind the Passivetown project

Miyazawa:I think that the recent Passivetown project is highly significant in the world of architecture. There are many architects who are not sure how to use vinyl windows, especially in multi -family residential buildings, but your company is showing them how. Not to mention, Mr. Maki is the architect for the second block. That was a big surprise.

Yoshida:When we were starting the project, Mr. Maki was the first person I spoke to. I was sure he wouldn't be interested, but felt I had to at least let him know what we were doing. He said he was indeed interested, and that he needed to learn about passive design now to prepare for ten, twenty years in the future.

Miyazawa:So you did not ask him for a design. (laughing)

(Starting from the top of the illustration)

● Maezawa Garden House…Design: Fumihiko Maki / Completion: 1982; Built as a guest house and research facility. Awarded the JIA (The Japan Institute of Architects) 25 Years Award in recognition of the building's contribution to the region.

● YKK50 Building…Design: YKK Project Team (Tadahiro Yoshida, Toshihiko Kimura, Seiichi Endo, Shuichi Kitamura, Hidetoshi Ono, Sadao Takasu) / Completion: 1984; Building complex including office space, exhibition halls, international conference rooms, and more. Has undergone multiple renovations in 2006 and other years.

● YKK Kurobe Domitory…Design: Herman Hertzberger, Takeo Ozawa / Completion: 1998; single -person dormitories for male and female employees of the YKK Group. The only building in Japan designed by the Netherland's famed architect, Herman Hertzberger.

● YKK Kurobe Horikiri Domitory…Design: teonks (Takeo Ozawa, Kaori Suehiro, Nobuko Suehiro) / Completion: 1999; single -person dormitories for female employees of the YKK Group.

● Maruyane Exhibition Hall…Design: Hidetoshi Ono, Akihiro Yoshida / Completion: 2008; Facility open to the public that showcases the YKK Group's monozukuri technology and history, the philosophy of founder Tadao Yoshida, and more. The distinctive arched roof of the oldest factory building at YKK's Kurobe Manufacturing Center was given a new lease on life and re-used here.

● Passivetown…The first block Design: Yuichiro Kodama / Completion: 2016. The second block Design: Fumihiko Maki / Completion: 2016. The third block Design: Miwa Mori / Completion: 2017. Landscape Design: Shunsaku Miyagi. The complex is notable for the different passive design methods used by the different architects in their designs. The first and the second block are new constructions, while the third block was a renovation project using existing buildings.

● YKK AP R&D Center…Design: Nihon Sekkei, Inc. / Completion: 2015. The building is the showpiece of the Technology Headquarters and sports a distinctive facade combining transparent and silver-color aluminum surfaces.

Yoshida:No. At the time Mr. Maki didn't have any engineers in his office familiar with passive design, but he did introduce me to Professor Masayuki Mae of The University of Tokyo, and we started working together.

Miyazawa:The first block was undertaken by Yuichiro Kodama, unquestionably the country's leading expert in passive design. You made an agreement for Mr. Maki to take on passive design on the second block, and Miwa Mori, who studied passive design in Germany, would undertake the third block renovations. I thought the whole strategy was very well developed, but in hindsight, the results have been quite unexpected. When did you first start thinking about the project?

Yoshida:There were old company condominiums on the site. I thought that if we were going to rebuild here, we should build company condominiums with a theme suitable for the times. As energy conservation and ecology had become global issues, I decided that passive design should be that theme. In order to actually build something, you need to pursuit the technology. We launched a project in which we invited outside specialists such as Professor Takashi Inoue of Tokyo University of Science to form a Passive Design Performance Evaluation Committee, which would assess the designs submitted by architects.

In constant pursuit of windows that are integral to our lives

Miyazawa:So were the performance assessments integrated into the plans from the beginning?

Yoshida:It would be ended leniently if we did not assess the designs. The results of the assessments become reference for those who followed. It is also valuable information for a window manufacturer such as ourselves. I kept giving our company's engineers issues and urging them to solve them. I dare say a lot of employees grumbled about me always having my way. But when they looked at me with disgruntled expressions, I thought to myself, "Maybe this is a good thing. I'll go with this. I've played the ʻhated' manager." (laughing)
 YKK became a strong company because it managed to establish high-quality zipper production technology. But what about YKK AP windows? The company isn't at that point yet. But I am positive we will get there; we just have to keep at working on the windows.

Miyazawa:So there's still work to be done, is that right? Finally, from June of this year you were assigned as a corporate advisor. Going forward, what are your hopes for YKK AP?

Yoshida:Our company makes windows, which are an integral part of people's lives. High-level themes are important, too, but I want them to tackle themes that are closer to people's interests, such as energy issues and durability. Wood material is one example, too. This is closely tied to the core nature of food, clothing, and shelter in Japan.

Miyazawa:In the Passivetown project, the fourth,the fifth,the sixth block are set to begin. I'm looking forward to two years from now, when I can look back and remember this conversation.

Yoshida:Sure, after two years.

This conversation took place on June 22, 2020

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