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WMF/Knoll Modernism Prize recognizes exemplary school restoration project in Japan

October 13, 2012

The 2012 World Monuments Fund/Knoll Modernism prize has been awarded to the Architectural Consortium for Hizuchi Elementary School, the team behind a three-year restoration of a functionalist school, constructed primarily of wood, in Yawatahama City, Shikoku Island, Japan. Hizuchi Elementary School has long been admired by Japanese architects as an important example of a cluster-style school design with strong modern character from its visual lightness. The school is an unusual hybrid combining modern postwar design and wood, Japan’s traditional building material. 

Hizuchi Elementary School was designed by Japanese municipal architect Masatsune Matsumura and completed between 1956 and 1958. Matsumura trained under Tsuchiura Kameki, who worked with Frank Lloyd Wright in the 1920s on the Imperial Hotel and on projects in Los Angeles and at Taliesin. Matsumura’s design is anchored by a long glass exterior hallway running the length of the school that ties together distinct building functions separated by interior garden light wells. The school’s rational spatial design maximizes the dramatic riverfront site, most noticeably in a outdoor reading balcony suspended off the library and in a floating staircase that extends over the river. 

In a 1999 national survey, DOCOMOMO JAPAN singled out Hizuchi Elementary School as one of the twenty most representative modern buildings in Japan. Despite this recognition, the building showed advanced deterioration after 50 years of use, sustained heavy damage in a 2004 typhoon and no longer met seismic protection standards. After many years of debate over the future of the school, in 2005 the Architectural Consortium for Hizuchi Elementary School—a group of architects and professors—was formed to work with city officials and the local community to restore and expand the site for continued use as a school. 

The award jury selected the 2012 honoree from forty nominations representing twenty countries. Bonnie Burham, president of the World Monuments Fund, notes that the Hizuchi Elementary School project, “a humble, functional building in a small Japanese city—and the story of people coming together for its preservation—is emblematic of the important role that modern architecture can play in communities around the world.” The project is also believed to be the first case of an architecturally significant modern wooden building restoration in Japan. 

World Monuments Fund launched its “Modernism at Risk” initiative with Knoll as a founding sponsor in 2006. The biennial Modernism Prize, which recognizes architects and designers who help ensure the rejuvenation and survival of modern buildings, is one component of the initiative that provides a framework for addressing issues that endanger modern landmarks and for promoting architectural advocacy and conservation. 

For more information: press release or slideshow

The WMF/Knoll Modernism Prize will be awarded at an event November 13, at MoMA. The ceremony will be followed by a free public lecture by members of the Architectural Consortium for Hizuchi Elementary School. See Calendar listing for details. 

Hizuchi Elementary School, historical image from river. photo © courtesy of Matsumura Family
Hizuchi Elementary School, first floor resource room. photo ©Architectural Institute of Japan Shikoku Chapter/ Photographer KITAMURA Toru.
Hizuchi Elementary School, first floor teacher's room. photo ©Architectural Institute of Japan Shikoku Chapter/ Photographer KITAMURA Toru.