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Re-Inventing Roji

A high density complex centered on interaction

Residential Complex
Senri New Town, Osaka, Japan

Team: Marco Nieto, Jenny Scarborough, and Elizabeth Sinyard.

Special thanks to professors Craig Borum and Claudia Wigger, as well as Osaka University.

Our scheme brings in the traditional Japanese concept of the “roji”, which are narrow alleyways filled with life and identity, to increase social interaction and accessibility for the older, current residents as well as to make the site more appealing for modern resident groups including college students and young families. The close proximity of all unit types, as well as the network of pathways and community spaces, encourages relationships between residents. Special attention is paid to material sensibility, vegetation, and surfacing in order to create a mix of traditional and contemporary environments.

Senri New Town, Osaka, Japan was built after World War II ended to address the mass need for affordable housing in the wake of the war’s destruction. Over the past 60 years, the first few generations have stayed, but the younger generations have moved away as they have begun to have families of their own. The current population consists of primarily elderly residents despite the site’s proximity to several universities and a major transit hub. However, the current development did not consider accessibility and does not properly serve the older population with its steep walkways, narrow staircases, and its lack of community gathering space. The units feel very disconnected from each other and the only proper public space that people can gather in are abandoned parks and lots.

Our new scheme brings in the traditional Japanese concept of the Roji to increase social interaction and accessibility for the current residents as well as to make the site more appealing for a broader, more contemporary demographic, including students and young families. As defined by Heidi Imai, a roji is, “...a narrow alleyway understood as an ordinary landscape providing a [mixed-use] setting for everyday life and place based identities being shaped by varied everyday practices and collective experiences.” The close proximity of all unit types as well as the network of pathways and community spaces encourages relationships between residents. Additionally, given the variety of units, both single floor as well as multi-level, the new part of Senri New Town allows accessibility for people of all ages and abilities.

Three different building typologies are introduced to the site, and they each serve a purpose in exploring how the Japanese Roji interacts with and responds to the architecture. The Roji is the main site feature as it navigates residents and visitors through the neighborhood and provides spaces for collective experience and community interaction. The materiality of the Roji is specific to the area in which it is serving, such as: in areas where there is more activity and higher density buildings, the Roji is wider and has more paths of travel. In areas that are used primarily by residents, the Roji is smaller and has a finer grain of detail when considering steps to specific units or gardens. In addition to the Roji, there are small garden areas and a larger park that provide areas for residents and visitors of all ages to gather and meet together.

To create a contemporary feel within the traditional and neutral setting of Senri New Town, we’ve introduced wood panels and battens, CLT structure, a dark gray tile, and a very light gray plaster. As prominent materials in Osaka, Kyoto and Japan, the use of these materials keeps within the fabric of traditional Japanese architecture while offering a new texture to the existing neighborhood.

Additionally, the inclusion of vegetation within the material pallete was particularly necessary. Plant life was apparent throughout the various buildings, however these spaces were curated by the residents; not every unit had the ability to grow their own gardens within their building. During the design and integration of our three typologies, spaces for individual and community gardens were included such as: roof top gardens, winter gardens, and spaces for green walls.

In effort to create a simple and easily deployable structural system, we based our units and structure on the proportions of the Japanese Ken measurement system. The basic building block of this system is the tatami mat with 3’x6’ dimensions. This measurement system has come to inform Japanese construction as many rooms are designed specifically for certain numbers and configurations of tatami mats. Some of the most common configurations of mats include 4, 4.5, 6 and 8 mat rooms. These various layouts have a least common multiple dimension of 12’, so to accommodate various room uses and mat configurations, we established a 12’x12’ primary structural column grid. Our structural system is primarily composed of columns and load bearing walls all composed of cross laminated timber. CLT is an incredibly strong and relatively new material in the construction industry, providing consistency with traditional Japanese wood construction methods.

| marnieto@umich.edu