A community space that enables the elderly to live their lives normally, even with severe conditions like dementia, was recently awarded the Good Design Grand Award at the annual Japanese Institute of Design Promotion’s award ceremony.
The jury selected ‘Long House with an Engawa’, an unconventional daycare facility in Chiba, a city near Tokyo, that welcomes everyone, from babies to the elderly, because ‘it is a place where people can help each other in the community. The elderly are not only supported, but watch over children. Children help the adults. Everyone helps each other. It reminds us of old times.’
As explained by architect Yamazaki Kentaro, of the Yamazaki Kentaro Design Workshop, the goal of the project was to create an environment in which ageing is not considered isolating in everyday life. This is an extremely important concept for Japan in particular, as the nation is experiencing a rapid ageing process unparalleled by other countries, with the ageing population increasingly isolated from the modern world. The population of individuals aged 65 and over makes up almost 30% of the country’s total 125 million people. Japan has one of the lowest birth rates in the world, and its ageing population is expected to continue increasing until at least 2042.
The house’s wide veranda-like engawa (porch) and main wooden structure are easily accessible in various ways, and contain outdoor spaces with three main functions: a café and workshop for local residents, a living room for the elderly, and a traditional tatami room and bath. Lots of little walls create a scattering of small but ample spaces in which people can spend time.
In order for the facility to integrate into the community, the garden pond and bamboo fence were created with the cooperation of local residents. ‘Through the lively workshop, we were able to catch a glimpse of how people from all walks of life might share their time in this place,’ wrote Yamazaki Kentaro. ‘Watching the people sitting on the porch enjoying their onigiri [rice balls], it feels like this architecture is a reminder of something important that modern Japan has lost.’