Aomori City Urban Development Section


Jones, Partners: Architecture


Summer 2001 (design)


Approximately 13,000 m2 (130,000 ft2) in the center of Aomori City, the northernmost prefecture of Honshu Island


9 billion Yen ($78.5 million)


Two hundred residences, a community salon, children's house, nursery, shops, and parking, demonstrating a planning strategy suitable to year-round activity in a northern climate


Modular steel housing units patterned on PRO/con system stacked twelve-high on cast-in-place concrete base; vertical steel snow gates/louvers


52,000 m2 (520,000 ft2)


Zones for snow-related activities, unoccupied and occupied snow areas, hydronically heated surfaces, and snow used as insulation.

Project text

In this proposal, the snow is treated as a palliative (quiet, contemplative, blanketing) for the anxious urban existence. This scheme recognizes that while snow is serenely beautiful when it is undisturbed, recumbent or sculpted by natural forces, it quickly turns ugly and inconvenient when it is plowed or forced into unnatural configurations. Further, what is exhilarating in a recreational setting (such as slope) can treacherous in a daily urban context.

The housing buildings in this scheme stand like a forest of tall tree-houses (steel MODULAR structures), with snow laden branches, growing out of the snowy hummocks of the multipurpose concrete base. All of the 200 housing units are in these trees (12 per tower/tree), with open space for light and air and private park space wandering between them on the top of the base. The arrangement of the tower/trees ensures the maximum privacy for each exposure of units. The parking for the units (private) and the retail and

daycare/eldercare spaces and their parking are provided in the base, which is designed to fit into the surrounding context at the pedestrian scale.

This proposal features many snow-related innovations: 1) there are two levels of entry everywhere, one down at natural grade, and one up at 1m snow level, 2) snow gate/louvers on sides of all the tree/houses and fences at their tops gather snow and pack it against the outside of the buildings for natural insulation, with a system of gutters that conveys the melt away in the spring, 3) a system of paths (at 1m snow level) have (limited) radiant heating, so the snow does not gather there, but instead naturally fills the low areas where it sits beautifully undisturbed for play and aesthetic enjoyment, 4) the site may turn itself "inside out" so that the housing and shops and daycare areas may be accessed entirely from inside parking areas during the worst weather.