Picchio Visitors Centre and KERA-IKE Ice Rink is located in the foothills of Mount Asama, an active volcano. This area of Japan, known as Karuizawa, is famous for its hot springs, cool temperatures in the summer months, red leaves in autumn and snow in the winter, making it the perfect weekend retreat from Tokyo, which is only 90 minutes away by bullet train. This project, a structure that can act as a skating clubhouse in winter and a nature centre in the summer, was a collaboration by Klein Dytham architecture and Japanese landscape design firm studio on site.
The project is a part of the Hoshinoya Hotel complex and is located next to Japan’s first bird sanctuary, which was established in 1964 along with a simple square ice rink for the local ice-hockey team.
Over the years the bird sanctuary flourished and although the ice rink and small clubhouse became overgrown, the site emerged as a breeding ground for dragonflies – a huge attraction for visitors in the summer months. A large curved double-sided bench runs down the centre of the space, allowing people to sit and face the pond in the summer with the doors fully open. Sitting on the other side allows people to face the shelving wall with research materials, displays and monitors. As the space widens towards one end, small informal talks and workshops can take place.
The transformation of the building from summer nature centre to winter ice rink clubhouse was an important aspect of this project – the structure had to be welcoming and fully functioning in both seasons.
In the winter months the shelves are relieved of the books and instead filled with rental ice skates. Yet again the double-sided bench is a focal point in the building, giving ample space for lacing up skates, or to sit in the warm and watch the swirling skaters outside. The building is cleverly placed so that spectators and skaters alike can soak up the winter sun on a fine day.
To maximize the skating season, a third of the rink has cooling pipes to help freeze the ice nearest the club house, simple temporary railings define the edge of the ice. As the temperatures decrease and the whole rink freezes, the railings are removed and people can skate around the whole rink. We believe this is the first time in the world an ice rink has combined both assisted freezing and natural ice.
Ensuring that the Picchio Visitors Centre was in harmony with its surroundings was an important aspect of the brief and huge efforts were made to both echo and respect the natural features of the site. Two deep wintering pools were made in the pond so that fish and other water life could have a place to live where the ice did not fully freeze and the natural flow of the water was the guide for landscaping works. Furthermore, to ensure that even in the depths of winter there is always a hint of the summer months to come, flecks of colour in the form of brightly coloured aluminium panels are darted in amongst the cedar shingles, bringing to mind the iridescent dragonfly eyes that will surely return to the pond as temperatures rise.