A decade ago, the Japanese architect Hiroshi Sambuichi started researching the unique characteristics of the endemic architecture on the small island of Naoshima in the Seto Inland Sea. He was intrigued by the many old minka (the local traditional farmhouse vernacular) dwellings and the fact that they all shared many similarities that pointed towards a common understanding of what had worked architecturally on the island for generations. For instance, most homes have two gardens (one north and one south) that allow the predominantly south-north wind to cool the houses when doors and windows are left open.

Sambuichi used this knowledge when he designed the striking Naoshima Hall in 2015. The oversized hip-and-gable roof has a air tunnel that utilises the same breeze to cool the 1,000 sq m hall through a clever cooling and ventilation system.

Naoshima is also home to the internationally acclaimed Setouchi Triennale. For the 2019 edition, Sambuichi turned a former post-office on the island into an exhibition of his research findings with a special focus on water, and how this once was used on a grand scale via a large area of rice paddies to cool the whole Honmura village. This took the form of a pavilion, and it has now become a permanent part of the Naoshima village. 

Using the same title and theme as in his stunning exhibition at Cisternerne in Copenhagen in 2017, ‘The Water’ uses the water from an old well in the central courtyard of the renovated post-office to create a large artificial pond that helps to cool the indoor/outdoor space. There is a large deck shaded by a large roof (both created in hinoki wood) where visitors are invited to linger and rest while experiencing the moving materials of the sun, wind and water that much of Sambuichi’s work revolves around. 

At the back, the former residence of the wealthy family who ran the post-office has been left mostly untouched both because of the excellent condition of the building, but also as a reminder to the villagers and visitors alike of the unique historical architecture of this little treasure island. §