The Azumaya (summer pavilion, arbour) is the archetype of the traditional garden hut – a refuge from the sun and the rain, a covered space rather than an enclosed interior. Traditional rules govern these small buildings. They should have no walls (to ensure a free flow of air, water and energy); their form should be asymmetrical (since the space under a symmetrical roof is traditionally reserved for the upper classes); and they should not rest on four columns (to avoid any parallel with the space under a four-legged animal).

Following last year’s workshop, the local administration asked for a specific design for a new Azumaya so they could apply to the prefectural government for funds that are allocated for individual regeneration projects in local towns. The basic design of the Azumaya was made during the winter of 1998/99 based on the gathering of ideas and details from previous years. A set of drawings was produced in order to secure planning permission. Extra materials were allocated for the ground works, such as sandstone, cherry trees, turf, sand, cement and aggregate. Machines and tools for basic landscaping and construction were provided. The project went out to tender. By its nature, it required the transgression of several conventions: the construction process was to involve a collaboration between the workshop and the contractor; apart from the basic structure, several design details would be left ‘open’ to allow for adjustment during the workshop, and students were to have the opportunity to learn the techniques of joinery from the chief carpenter during the timber assembly. The contractor would have to agree not only to work within the timescale of the workshop (in order to allow the collaboration) but also to be legally responsible for its timely completion. Only one contractor tendered for so demanding, yet so very small, a construction. The participants in the workshop included 16 students from the AA and four students of architecture and fine art from Japanese universities (none of whom had any technical skills in the making of timber joints, had to learn how to construct traditional timber joints from the chief carpenter (the two sliding benches could then be assembled by the team without the use of nails or metal fixings).

Azumaya building video by Rubens Azevedo, Shin Egashira and collaborators.

The spatial characteristics of Koshirakura’s Azumaya were composed of language, details and textures extracted from previous years’ structures. Although the formulae of the roof angles and other attendant details were learned from vernacular traditions for dealing with snow, such features achieve their unique spatial significance from spring to autumn, when the absence of snow generates excess volumes of space. Above the structure of the Azumaya is a roof space that can be used by children for sleepovers during the summer. In winter the depth of this dark enclosed volume registers the accumulation of snow – the layers of snow are represented by slits of reflected light. The colours of each season permeate the light entering through the north-facing akaritori (clerestory) louvres: the green of summer, the red leaves of autumn, the white of winter snow and, in spring, the pink of the blossoms on the cherry tree directly in line with the louvres. The apertures can be adjusted; so too can a sliding bench, a second frame-like structure and a screen. Relationships between the benches and the main structure can be reconfigured to allow for activities such as karaoke parties, koto concerts and tea ceremonies. When the benches are drawn in to enclose the structure, the space is smaller and more intimate – suitable for private meetings. The space communicates both enclosure and openness. Next to the Azumaya stands a row of cherry trees, the movement of leaves will be registered as flickering reflected light inside the Azumaya, penetrating through the north-facing shuttering – green in the summer, pink in the spring.