This Japanese “zero waste” building is made up of 700 donated windows

Written by Rebecca Cairns, CNN

Contributors Junko Ogura, CNNMayumi Maruyama, CNN

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.

The building won an award from Architectural Institute of Japan last year, and with the increased focus on the city, the community also hopes to attract new environmentally conscious residents to boost its declining population.

“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.

They mainly used local and recycled materials, choosing cedar wood from the surrounding forests to create the building’s support structure and skeleton. Kamikatsu had a thriving timber industry until the 1970s, when competition from cheap foreign lumber put the industry into decline. Using local materials has reduced fuel from transportation and packaging, Nakamura said, while incorporating a key piece of the city’s history. The wood was left in its raw, round shape rather than cut into square beams or planks to further reduce waste.

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.

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.

They also used “participatory architecture” practices for the project. While this usually involves consulting with residents on what they want or need from a building, Nakamura said the Zero Waste Center takes this concept one step further, as it was built with materials donated by the municipality. 1,453 residents.

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.

In 1998an incinerator replaced open burning – but the fumes contained dangerous levels of toxic dioxin and the incinerators were closed soon after.
Then, in 2003, Kamikatsu made a “zero waste declaration”, making headlines as the first place in Japan to make such a commitment. Over the years, Kamikatsu residents have developed a detailed 45-category recycling system that has helped them achieve a 80% recycling rate in 2016 — compared to 20% in the rest of Japan in 2019, according to the latest figures from the Japanese government.
Old harvest boxes from local farms have been recycled into storage shelves in the community hall.

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.

Like many places in Japan, the population of Kamikatsu is grow old and decline, younger residents seeking work in larger cities. It is hoped that the town’s green approach will attract new residents looking for a more sustainable way of life, like Otsuka. She sees an opportunity for growth through ecotourism, supported by the opening of a boutique hotel at the Zero Waste Center in May 2020.

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

Although building with waste is unusual, it is not unique: innovative architects around the world have experimented with building from waste. The facade of House Bonding in Mumbai, India, is made with salvaged doors and windows, while David Hertz Architects used the wings of a disused Boeing in the Wing House 747 in California.

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.

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.”

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