Otemon Gakuin University Academic-Ark

Located in the leafy city of Ibaraki in northern Osaka Prefecture, this project forms the core of the Ibaraki Smart Community, which occupies the 185,000 m2 site of a former Toshiba factory. The 40,000 m2 facility will serve as a new campus for about 3,600 students at Otemon Gakuin University, or about half the student population.

As Internet technology, artificial intelligence, and mobility improve and students no longer need to be on campus to attend school, what form will universities take? Our task as architects was to think about how to design a learning site that would inspire students to make that trip to campus. Since ancient times, Japan’s shrines and temples have held a mystery and attraction that has drawn pilgrims from all corners of the country, turning these sites into lively gathering places. This concept informed our image of the learning spaces of the future.

In order to attract people and concentrate activity in one area, we layered functions inside a single building. Our aim was to create a complex that welcomes diverse individuals, stimulates interest, invites exploration, and provides a place to spend time. We selected a triangular footprint as the most efficient shape for centralizing the excitement and energy of academic activity in a single space, and angled each corner of the building steeply inward to create inviting «gates» to enter through.

Inside this Academic Ark, as we named the building, visitors are greeted by a massive, floating silver volume in the main hall. The volume contains a library packed with those treasures of the learning space, books. A “book trail” encircles this centripetal space, flanked by six large classrooms on both the second and third floors and twenty-one small classrooms on the fourth and fifth floors. A large void between the library and the book trail allows for visibility between floors, making apparent the energy created by a learning site where individuals both see and are seen by each other.

Environmentally sustainable design elements include a cast stainless steel screen façade featuring a motif of cherry blossoms, the university flower, which both expresses the school’s identity and reduces the environmental load by sixty percent in summer. The rooftop garden on the fifth floor and the triangular corridor-like terrace covered by large eaves that encircles the garden reduce heat entering the building from the roof as well as provide a place for students to enjoy the gentle breezes as they relax or study.

This Academic Ark sits within a park-like campus that can be freely utilized by residents of the Smart City. It is our hope that the building will become a new space for learning that students actively seek out in order to experience connections with teachers, friends, and society at large even in this Internet age.

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