Land of the Rising Sun
Elizabeth Blish Hughes -- Interior Design, 11/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
At Sun City Takarazuka, there's not a cactus in sight.
Tomio Kanazawa of the Half Century More Co., the project's developer, is a fan of all things American—including that iconic Arizona desert retirement community Sun City—and he's spent the past 15 years developing senior housing in Japan, where 22 percent of the population is expected to be over 65 by 2010. Realizing that the country's traditional family-based solution to elder care would have to evolve, he tapped into U.S. expertise to design noninstitutional residential environments for seniors.
Babey Moulton Jue & Booth was part of a Bay Area team of firms dispatched in 1992 to augment a Japanese architect's plans for the first Sun City project, a mid-rise in Hadano. From the start, principal Gerry Jue countered prevailing notions of how affluent seniors would want their housing to look: either traditional Japanese or Western-themed— think Tuscan villa, English country, or Louis Louis. Instead, he opted for a Western style imbued with an Asian spirit, an aesthetic familiar to a sophisticated clientele accustomed to five-star hotels.
Five Sun City developments later, the one in Takarazuka, a small city near Osaka, deviates from the others in that the hillside site came with a strict 33-foot height restriction. Jue says the multi-firm team spent "years figuring out how to squeeze six stories into three."
From the street, the resulting 350,000-square-foot structure is almost invisible as it cascades down a hill. Courtyards allow all 300 residential units to receive southern sun, a virtual requirement for Japanese architecture. And no unit is farther than 330 feet from a dining facility, thanks to public spaces integrated vertically—with expansive if distant views of Osaka Bay.
Choosing finishes for the public spaces, Jue reduced his color palette to serene neutrals. Italian polished plaster brings a quiet gray sheen to walls. White Turkish limestone appears on other walls, while taupe limestone is used for flooring. For still further walls and ceilings, he chose bleached raffia, straw-colored grass cloth, and medium-stained oak.
In addition to blending a limited number of materials, Jue played with proportions, allowing small spaces to appear larger. The stringent height requirement meant that the ceilings generally had to be quite low, so he interspersed double-height spaces for the reception area, lobby lounge, and library, then added accent lights to draw eyes upward. Installing the grass cloth above darker paneling produced a similar effect. Everywhere, those kinds of strategies combine with an attention to minimal yet exquisite detailing. "The environment changes subtly, but it's enough to differentiate the spaces," Jue says.
Realizing that Takarazuka residents often have to cope with impaired vision or mobility, he says, "It's our responsibility to deal with those things in a way that a senior isn't constantly reminded of being old and frail." The furniture includes custom and modified pieces made for elderly Japanese women, who compose the majority of the residents. A chair, for example, might have a lower-than-normal seat, a shallower depth, and a pitch that permits a sitter to rise more easily. In hallways, the carpeting changes color and pattern. "If people can find their way without walking on a red line in the center of a corridor," Jue says, "then we've done our job."