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Beauty in Garbage: Naka Incineration Plant by Yoshio Taniguchi

Hiroshima: An incineration plant is devised as real-time science museum and tourist destination (complete with waterfront park).

by Fred A. Bernstein
November 9, 2004

Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi has two new buildings to his credit. One is the Museum of Modern Art, opening later this month in New York City. The other is an incinerator in Hiroshima, which Taniguchi proudly refers to as "my museum of garbage.”


The two buildings are comparable in scale and cost. Both were designed to dazzle architecture buffs, with Taniguchi's extraordinarily refined details, and to attract tourists.


In commissioning the $400 million Naka Incineration Plant, Hiroshima's long-time mayor, Takashi Hiraoka, was trying to address two problems. First, the city – rebuilt in a hurry after World War II – was a warren of bleak architecture. (The various monuments to the atomic bomb blast, by Kenzo Tange, Isamu Noguchi, and others, are exceptions.) In 1995, on the 50th anniversary of the blast, Mayor Hiraoka announced a design initiative; it has already produced a dazzling, all-glass fire station.


Second, the city of 1.1 million is facing a garbage explosion.


The mayor figured that if people could see how much garbage they produce, they might begin to produce less. So why not open the new processing plant to the public – a kind of real-time science museum? And why not hire Japan's preeminent museum architect, Yoshio Taniguchi, to design it?


Taniguchi conceives buildings as urban planning interventions. At MoMA, with its famous sculpture garden, his conceit is that the museum is a microcosm of Manhattan: a group of buildings surrounding a park. In Hiroshima, the incinerator, though massive (490,000 square feet), is, improbably, a pathway to the water.


Its site, at the end of one of Hiroshima's main boulevards, overlooks the city's harbor. But the building would have entirely blocked residents’ access to the water. So Taniguchi decided to continue the boulevard, in the form of a raised, glass-enclosed walkway. Beginning where the pavement ends, the 400-foot walkway slips through the building, ending in a new waterfront park.


On either side of the walkway are vast, stainless steel machines, like five-story-high Cuisinarts.


But that’s only the beginning. Follow a well-marked visitor's route (graphics are by San Francisco's Tamotsu Yagi, best known for Benetton and Esprit campaigns) down long hallways, with windows overlooking a trash pit so deep that discarded futons near the bottom look like pieces of confetti.


Two men sit in a glass-floored control room cantilevered over the pit. Using joysticks, they operate giant hooks that transfer house-sized clumps of garbage into hoppers. From there, Hiroshima’s refuse makes its way through a maze of extractors and processors. What's left emerges from the building through a 180-foot, rectilinear chimney. (Environmentalists have raised questions about the release of dioxins into the atmosphere, though city officials claim there is no problem.) The plant produces 15,200 kilowatts of electricity when operating fully.


The entire building (except the pit itself) is eat-off-the-floor clean. And Taniguchi’s architecture, white-on-white-on-silver, gently asymmetrical but always carefully proportioned, ennobles the entire operation. (Workers leave their shoes at the front door.)


It is too early to say if it the dazzling incinerator will reduce trash production, but, by calling attention to the problem, it can only help. Other cities – including New York, which is planning a $45 million recycling plant on the Brooklyn waterfront – could do worse than to follow Hiroshima's example.


Editor’s note: Photos of the Naka Incineration Plant appear in the November 2004 issue of Metropolis (along with a profile of Yoshio Taniguchi by Bernstein).


Fred Bernstein studied architecture at Princeton University, and has written about design for more than 15 years. He also contributes to the New York Times, Metropolitan Home, Blueprint, and Oculus magazine.


Also by Bernstein:


Second Look: George Washington Bridge Bus Station / Pier Luigi Nervi, 1963
One of Nervi's few completed projects outside Italy is a superb example of the poetry he wrought from ferro-concrete.

INSIGHT: The Might-Have-Been Memorial

Of the 5,200 or so entries in the memorial competition, mine was one of the ones that the judges liked. But…


















(click on pictures to enlarge)

(Fred A. Bernstein)
Naka Incineration Plant, Hiroshima, under construction

(City of Hiroshima)
View from the water

(Fred A. Bernstein)
Walkway detail

(Fred A. Bernstein)
Official holding site plan

© 2004