Hotel in Obanazawa

Many of Kengo Kuma’s projects are characterized by experiments with materials and their presentation in a striking or a dominant form. In the extensive refurbishment this hotel underwent, the architect used various traditional hand-crafted materials with minimized details. Obanazawa, in the snowy north of Honshu, the main island of Japan, is a resort popular for its hot springs. Here, time-honoured lodgings are clustered along the Ginzan River. Even if many of the hotels have clearly been modernized, there was no question in the present case of making major changes to the scale or volume of the 100-year-old Ginzan Onsen Fujiya structure that would disrupt the ensemble as a whole. On the other hand, a new spirit and modern comforts were required. The existing building was largely demolished and then reconstructed, using the old as well as new materials. A modern interpretation of the traditional Japanese inn or guest house can be recognized in two features: in the clearly articulated facade, with its enlarged window openings and a skin of spaced wooden strips; and in the entrance area, which opens on to the street, yet which is separated from it by a pool of water and translucent sliding glass walls. A spacious two-storey foyer has been inserted into the structure, and the number of guest rooms has been reduced from twelve to eight. Hand-made Japanese paper can be found in many wall screens internally; and slit-bamboo panels are used as wall and ceiling cladding in the circulation and bathing areas. They also form semi-transparent spatial divisions around the foyer. Together with etched-glass wall elements, these screens articulate specific zones in the entrance and access areas. In the communal bathing spaces, individual materials like bamboo and hiba wood are used to striking effect. In combination with indirect lighting and carefully staged views, these help to create a calm, relaxed atmosphere. Specially designed furnishings with clear lines – sparingly used in the foyer and guest rooms – help to create modern, meditative spaces within the traditional outer skin.
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