Architects: Nikken Sekkei + Kornberg Associates + Kuniken
Location: Okinawa, Japan
Year built: 2000
The government’s mission was to create the kind of research environment that would be alluring to anyone in the world working on challenges that are part of the OIST research program. With an initial focus on neurosciences, the plan was to produce a multi-disciplinary facility where the borders between disciplines are removed and physicists, mathematicians, chemists, biologists, engineers and computer scientists work together on the complexities of the brain and the nervous system. Following an international design competition Kornberg Associates and Japanese Architecture and Engineering firms Nikken Sekkei and Kuniken were awarded this important project.
Entry to the campus begins at a pedestrian bridge spanning a reclaimed lake. The journey continues on through a 300 foot subterranean gallery leading to four high-speed elevators that rise 100 feet to the research campus center, unveiling ocean and forested canyon vistas. In the morning the gallery displays that day’s classes, seminars and the cafeteria’s menu, and also highlights research projects being published or in the news. In the evening on the return trip to the campus village and central garage, the gallery displays the next day’s information. This sequence concentrates researchers into a common pathway 20 minutes each day. It also substantially reduces paving, parking and vehicular traffic that would otherwise be required to transport staff and visitors up the mountain to the campus each day. Pedestrian bridges, currently under construction and scheduled for completion in 2012, will span the steep ravines, minimizing the impact of foot traffic on the native terrain and protecting the biologically rich and sensitive areas that serve as diurnal migration routes between ocean and mountains for the native fauna. Honoring local traditions, OIST is built like a modern version of the traditional island castles which still exist on Okinawa: a stone wall, plaza on top, and buildings surrounding the plaza. Many of the exterior walls are covered with the same local quarried stone that was used on regional castles centuries ago.