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Nendo Takes On Architecture With A Huge New Public Plaza (And A Trampoline, Of Course)

The Japanese design studio—known for its prolific output—continues its quest to take over the world.

The Japanese designer Oki Sato is known for producing a tremendous amount of work each year—from design objects to lifestyle products to exhibitions—through his design studio, Nendo. Now, Sato and his 30- person team are increasing not only the quantity, but also the scale of their work. In its first foray into urban planning, Nendo has designed a massive public plaza near Kyoto, with a stage, park, bike rental station, and jungle gym housed in a series of stepped saucers reassembling local topography.

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The plaza’s name, CoFuFun, alludes to the 2,000-year-old Japanese tombs that pepper the urban landscape around Tenri Station in the Nara prefecture, where the plaza is located. Known as cofun, or kofun, these monolithic tombs look like keyholes from a bird’s-eye view, with one square end and one circular end. Above ground, the cofun are comprised of a mound of earth cut into stepped levels. Beneath the circular end, a funeral chamber houses a number of megaliths. The tombs were largely constructed between the 3rd century and the early 7th century AD, and their proliferation is associated with the expansion of the Japanese Imperial court, which ruled from modern-day Nara during the Yamato period.

[Photo: Takumi Ota]
When designing the white, disc-shaped concrete structure for the plaza, Nendo took inspiration from both the tombs and the geography of the Nara Basin, which is surrounded on all sides by mountains. To create them, Nendo precast pieces of a concrete mold in a factory off site, then assembled the pieces together like slices of a pizza, using a fleet of cranes. The concrete stairs are used for different purposes in the various structures that make up the plaza: as benches for sitting in the concave bowls, and as roofs for the cafe and stage when they’re flipped. The 65,000-square-foot plaza sits beside the Tenri Station and includes a cafe, shops, an information kiosk, an outdoor stage, a meeting space, a play area, and—improbably—a trampoline built right into the top of one of the structures.

The project revitalized a previously unused space for the community in Tenri, which has a population of around 67,000 people. It also marks Nendo’s largest design endeavor to date, and second architectural project after renovating the Siam Discovery department store in Bankok last year. If Nendo is shifting toward more architectural work, it wouldn’t be a surprise—as Co.Design’s Diana Budds reported in 2016, Sato graduated from architecture school in 2002 before becoming enamored with design at Milan Design Week and switching his focus.

The question is: Will larger works mean cutting back on Nendo’s prolific output?

About the author

Meg Miller is an associate editor at Co.Design covering art, technology, and design.

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