This Japanese “zero waste” building is made up of 700 donated windows
Planks of Burgundy cedar wood frame 700 mismatched windows, forming a patchwork of panes against a backdrop of mountain peaks and groves of evergreens.
The facade of the Kamikatsu Zero Waste Center is striking to say the least; almost as striking as the fact that it was built from rubbish.
Located on the banks of the Katsuura River on a double horseshoe bend in the remote mountain town of Kamikatsu in southern Japan, the center was opened in 2020 amid the Covid-19 pandemic and is become a new heart for the community.
Replacing the old “prefab shack” where garbage was sorted, the new center was built to help the city achieve its ambitious goal of achieving 100% zero waste, said Hiroshi Nakamura, chief architect of the project and founder of NAP Architectural Consulting.
“We wanted to make this (center) a place that people could be proud of,” Nakamura said.
The center helps residents recycle waste in 45 categories and has a boutique hotel for ecotourists. Credit: Koji Fuji
Built with memories
Nakamura and his team began designing the zero waste center in consultation with Kamikatsu residents in April 2016.
For the rest of the structure and interior, almost everything was recycled. But creating a building from waste is not an easy task. “We usually design first and then apply off-the-shelf materials to fit the design,” the architect told CNN. Instead, the design process took over two years, researching and fitting each piece like a puzzle.
Some items – including roofing materials, metals for waterproofing, bolts and screws for gaskets, and equipment such as air conditioning and plumbing fixtures – had to be new to ensure compliance with building codes and to safety standards, Nakamura said. However, limiting the amount of new resources still helped reduce the building’s environmental impact and cost, which Nakamura says would have been double without the use of recycled materials.
Shattered glass and pottery were turned into terrazzo flooring and green glass bottles into a recycled chandelier. Credit: Koji Fuji
The team had to be resourceful, asking manufacturers for surplus or imperfect materials that would normally be discarded, such as faulty tiles, Nakamura said.
Shattered glass and pottery have been turned into terrazzo flooring, harvest containers from a local shiitake mushroom farm have been converted into shelves, and a disused bed from a nursing home has been turned into a sofa. For the building’s striking facade, residents salvaged old windows, some salvaged from abandoned buildings.
“The architecture itself was created with the memories of the residents, so they are attached to it,” Nakamura said.
A zero waste city
Nestled in the central mountains of Shikoku Island, Kamikatsu spans a vast area of 27,000 acres. Its settlements cluster along a winding stretch of highway that follows the meandering Asahi and Katsuura rivers, weaving through valleys of cedar-covered mountain slopes.
The far-from-town location, an hour’s drive from the nearest town, means Kamikatsu has always managed its own waste and has a strong culture of recycling, said Momona Otsuka, environmental manager at Kamikatsu Zero. Waste Center, which moved to the city in 2020.
Old harvest boxes from local farms have been recycled into storage shelves in the community hall. Credit: Koji Fuji
But getting to true zero waste, originally planned for 2020, is tricky, Otsuka said: “Some categories of waste, like diapers and disposable heat packs, are extremely difficult and expensive to recycle.”
The Zero Waste Center was designed to solve this problem, she said. Using a one-way system, the center is divided into areas that make recycling easier: a waste sorting and collection area, a recycling center, an education room and a volunteer-run shop where free items and reusable items such as clothes, plates, books and electronic devices are donated and picked up by residents. Anything that cannot be recycled is collected and sent to an incinerator or landfill in the nearest city, Tokushima.
But the center doesn’t just help the environment: it’s also for people. Residents typically visit once or twice a week, and with public spaces built into the design, it doubles as a community hub for the extended city.
Media coverage has created a sense of pride in the community, Otsuka said, adding that the center is already attracting tourists: in its first year, 5,000 people visited the city and 1,200 guests stayed at the hotel. , despite the Covid-19 pandemic. As tourism opens up, she hopes more visitors will come to “experience zero waste in a positive way”.
A recyclable building
But the Kamikatsu Zero Waste Center has incorporated recycling into its very foundation. Future innovation or population decline could mean less waste, leaving the building redundant. In anticipation of this, Nakamura designed the building to be easily reduced or entirely dismantled and recycled.
From above, the question mark shape of the building is clear. It asks people to question their consumption habits, and to consume less. Credit: Koji Fuji
“The concept of zero waste is not about the final disposal of waste, such as the disposal of garbage (which goes to landfill), but rather we have to think about how to dispose of waste upstream,” Nakamura added. .
The design of the Kamikatsu Zero Waste Center has motivated Nakamura to seek out greener architectural projects and be more creative in sourcing materials – and he hopes the center will also inspire others to rethink waste.
“My perception and the way I think about trash has changed 180 degrees,” Nakamura said. “I learned the importance of creating new things while inheriting memories.”