koshirakura landscape workshop
In 1996 I held the first architectural summer workshop in Koshirakura village, Japan. This soon became an annual event in the local calendar and coincided with Koshirakura’s traditional Maple Cutting Festival. Participants were drawn from the AA and other schools around the world. The workshop used the facilities of the disused local elementary school, filling a void in the shrinking community with visiting architecture students. My wish has been to contribute to changes in this community through the application of architectural knowledge and by making buildings as a continuous form of communication.
Koshirakura village lies in Niigata Prefecture some 200 km north of Tokyo and is one of 13 villages scattered along complex terrains carved out by the Shibumi River. A rural, mountainous region still recovering from a powerful earthquake in 2004, it is distinguished by overgrown forests and abundant rice fields. Koshirakura has 100 inhabitants (a third of its total population in 1980) and the average age is over 60. In the 10 years of its existence, the workshop has brought together 300 participants from 46 countries, who have worked on a total of 18 built projects so far (including a bus shelter, pavilion, movie screen and viewing platform), and have made artefacts, films, maps and photographs. The workshop as a project, hopes to serve as an infrastructure for its social sustainability. It wishes to continue documenting a post-agricultural community in transition and to portray Koshirakura’s people and of the terrain they continue to cultivate.
Intercultural exchange has been a significant part of the workshops, and it was important that participants be accepted as temporary residents rather than just visitors. To achieve this, students assumed some of the duties of residents, most significantly by taking part in the traditional autumn Maple Cutting Festival. The festival, which is particular to Koshirakura, begins with the selection and cutting of a sacred tree in the mountains and carried to the village for a night of singing and dancing. The following day the tree is carried and drugged from house to house to commemorate and celebrate significant events of the previous year, whether a birth or marriage, a special birthday, the extension of a house, or successes in business and studies. Inhabitants with special reason to offer thanks provide foods for all, endless toasting of sake, water throwing and singing lend the festival an additional intensity. The journey through the village include a stop at the former schoolhouse, where the workshop activities are based, to celebrate the increasing size of Maple tree every year.