First construction phase of Shitennoji Gakuen Elementary School and Shitennoji Gakuen University Fujiidera Station Campus was completed in 2009, and second construction phase of Shitennoji Gakuen Junior High School and High School in 2014. With this next, third phase of construction, a gymnasium for the elementary school will be added.
With the opening of Shitennoji Gakuen High School in 2017, junior high school and high school students will begin using the gymnasium built during the first phase of construction, which was previously being used by the elementary school students. Therefore, a design for a new gymnasium for the elementary school students was needed. After some discussion, we were able to narrow down the challenges for the design of the new gymnasium to the following two aims. The first is to strive for safety and functionality, creating a building able to fully respond to the children’s physical activity needs. The second is to ensure the building also has the symbolic qualities and atmosphere befitting use as a place of worship. These two aims may seem to contradict one another, but through a process of trial and error, we designers eventually turned to inspiration from the Jetavana monastery, where the Buddha gave many of his teachings. As the Jetavana is known as the “Bamboo Grove Monastery” in Japanese, we arrived at the concept of a bamboo forest watching over and blessing the children. Specifically, the design incorporates 7 meter tall, 45 centimeter wide rectangular openings extending across the east, west, and south walls, tilted to a 45 degree angle designed to be viewed from side-on. A 45 degree angle was chosen because it is said that the rays of morning sunshine shone at this same angle when Buddha was born. Window frames reminiscent of bamboo nodes have also been added to the openings, transforming the gray concrete openings into a vibrant green evocative of young bamboo. While the undressed concrete of the building’s exterior gives it a simple, robust character, its overall impression is one of gentleness. During the day, it takes on the appearance of a grove of young bamboo bathed in sunlight, while at night, the faint glow of light coming from inside the building makes it look just like a lush bamboo forest. The interior reinforces the gentle atmosphere of the building. In addition to the wood paneled walls which envelop the children in the warmth of wood, a 13 meter wide, 4 meter deep space in which to enshrine a Buddha has been installed at the rear of the stage, creating a sense of tranquility befitting the building’s role as a place of worship. As designers, we are extremely thankful for the strict conditions and restrictions that forced us to put much careful thought into what is usually a very standard, ordinary building: a school gymnasium.