Sowa Unit by Kensuke Watanabe



Tokyo architect Kensuke Watanabe has completed a rehabilitation centre for people suffering with mental illness near Tokyo in Japan.


Called Sowa Unit, the two-storey building consists of six concrete bands arranged in a staggered formation.

Concrete sides keep the interior closed off from neighbouring buildings.

The front and back of each band is glazed, encouraging users to visually and physically connect with other people in the centre, and the street beyond.

Photos are by Koichi Torimura.

Here's some more information from Kensuke Watanabe:


Sowa Unit

The site is located in middle of residential district of suburb area, an hour ride with train from center of Tokyo.

The project is a facility that supports the rehabilitation of mentally disordered person.

Two approaches of design could be considered for handicap support facility; one is providing protect for what the user is disabled, and the other is stimulate and encourage the disabled part more than usual condition.

Extensive discussions with the Client lead the project to take the later approach, to have the space open and encourage the users to get physically and visually connected with other people.

The building is composed with six bands that shift its position one by another.

Openings to the direction of street are clearly open while the crossing direction to the neighbor has no widows.

This allows the activity and space of the building to be connected each other or to street and town while having appropriate distance and buffer to the adjacent resident.

Ceiling at second floor are also shifted vertically so natural light comes through the high side slit window.

Each band have open space and closed core which stole the equipment or having water supply that supports the activity held in open space.

These cores stands alternately so that the space is not only being transparent but also has a visually blocked area that user can control the connectivity by shifting his body within the space.

The program with public character such as café, lunchroom, or office work training room are located at street side and gradually turns private toward the end of the building.

The structure is made of reinforced concrete and has exposed finish.

We used the normal plywood rather than coated one for the formwork so the graining is transferred and remain as the texture of concrete.

Floor material is mortal or tile at 1st floor and wood flooring at 2nd floor.

Architect: kwas/kensuke watanabe architecture studio, Kensuke Watanabe, Yuji Mukaiyama

Structure: Ken Nagasaka Engineering Network, Kentaro Nagasaka, Tomohiro Magami

MEP: So Setsubi, Akihiro Nanjo
Lighting: Sirius Lighting Office, Hirohito Totsune, Toshiya Nagano

Construction: Hatsukari Construction Company, Toshihide Miya, Toshiyuki Yagi
Photo: Koichi Torimura

Posted on Tuesday January 5th 2010 at 9:32 am by . Copyright policy | Comments policy

  • J*

    brrr… imagine this place full with people suffering with mental illness. Scary, and sad too. Gives me the hibee jebees. Nice execution though.

  • zztop

    Giant people & enormous ashtray!
    Quite nice overall composition.

  • pkr

    i’m not sure about using concrete, is it too depressing for mental illness people?

  • smithj2810

    Looks far to institutional, think the architecture needs to be comforting. Rogers, Maggie center in Hammersmith has the users needs at the forefront of it’s design. If these were apartments then I would be complimentary but as a rehabilitation centre Im not convinced.

  • bebo

    Ya ithink it should be more colorful…or at least more natural light.

  • gab xiao

    it’s a neat, warm place in spite of the use of concrete. the open layout and the huge windows make it interact with the outside in a, say, protective way.

    I love it – mentally handicapped people are quite well responsive to good architecture and clean-cut shapes.

  • looks great, but I’m not sure it’s so nice for mentally ill people, looks right out of a scary movie.

  • tiny_architect

    I find it perfect, clear and precise.
    Maybe this foundation won’t host the most tragic cases of mentally ill people…so this would work just fine.

    P.S. i believe that most of us are just jealous…:-P

  • anel

    it’s great with a lot of super minimalistic things, contemporary too!, but to cold and grey for this purposs.:)

  • I deal with depression so please know self deprecation humor… was concrete vs padded considered?

  • ness

    this is crazy … get it?

  • LiLi

    Simple, modern and beautiful. Wide windows extend continuing atmosphere towards the outside while being protective of the people inside. The greyness of the concrete allows the people to add their own comforting colors . Great work!

  • angry catalan

    I think it’s pretty warm. Looks like a quiet, peaceful place.

  • Bay Karasuddhi

    Very nice Ken! Great job. Love the floating tiny plants! : )

  • Amy

    Minimalism that stark would drive me bonkers… but nice building