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Shiroiya Hotel, Sou Fujimoto Architects, Photo: Katsumasa Tanaka

To Slumber in a Green Hill: Shiroiya Hotel in Maebashi by Sou Fujimoto

“Where good things grow” − following this motto, the Japanese industrial city of Maebashi has spent the past few years renewing its urban centre. The Second World War left extensive damage in this city of 350,000, which is located around 100 km northwest of Tokyo. Buildings erected over the subsequent decades are also showing their age. One of these is the unadorned reinforced-concrete structure that Sou Fujimoto Architects have now renovated for the Shiroiya Hotel. Previously, the building was home to the Shiroiya Ryokan, an inn that enjoyed more than three centuries of tradition. When it closed, the building stood empty for many years.
In the future, the four-storey hotel will welcome guests under the name Heritage Tower. The architects have had the structure painted in gleaming white and gutted the interior. The south-facing, streetside façade is now bedecked with quotations from American artist Lawrence Weiner.
Inside, the architects and their client did anything but maximize the space. Large atria connect the levels and expose the building’s steel skeleton. Daylight falls from above through a new glass roof. Brick paving and large potted plants give the atrium the character of an urban plaza. The Lighting Pipes installation by Argentine conceptual artist Leandro Erlich criss-crosses the reinforced-concrete structure. It consists of plastic pipes that are lit from within − an interpretation of the water pipes that are otherwise painstakingly concealed from view, and not only in hotels. Erlich also designed one of the four artists’ rooms in the building; the others were created by Jasper Morrison, Michele de Lucchi and Sou Fujimoto himself. Altogether, the hotel has 25 guest rooms, whose rates start at the equivalent of around 230 euros a night.
On the north-facing, rear side of the building Sou Fujimoto Architects have erected a complete contrast to the Heritage Tower. This spot was once home to the banks of a small river that was built over long ago. This is why this part of the grounds lies one level lower than the south-facing entranceway. The Green Tower, an artificial hill as tall as four storeys, now mediates the difference in ground height. Inside there are more hotel rooms; the little white huts distributed over the slopes accommodate art installations and a Finnish sauna. A footpath leads across the hill and connects the main road on the entrance side of the hotel with the more tranquil Babakkawa-dori Street to the north of the lot.

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