Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Nexus World (1991) is one of the most interesting housing experiments in recent times. This complex was designed by several renowned Western architects, led by the famous Japanese master Isosaki Arata, including Steven Holl, Oscar Tusquets, Mark Mack, Christian de Portzamparc, Osamu Ishiyama and especially Rem Koolhaas, who was catapulted to international fame after their participation in this project.


Nexus World is located in Kashii, near Fukuoka, Kyushu Region in the southwest of Japan. The residential complex is located next to the Hakata Bay, and very close to that, in an artificial island, is Toyo Ito's Grin Grin Park.

Aerial View of Project Nexus World.
See location on Google Maps

Panorama of Nexus World


Isozaki is one of the icons of modern Japanese architecture in the twentieth century (previously we have discussed some of his work in this moleskine) and he is also a native of Kyushu.

Arata Isozaki made the master plan of Nexus World, which should have been presided by two huge 120 m height towers designed by him, but unfortunately were never realized. Even though Isozaki provided the general urban plan, he gave great freedom to the other architects in this experimental housing complex.

Original proposal including the two huge towers proposed by Arata Isozaki.
Compare it with the current construction, which includes only a medium density buildings.

Medium density blocks replaced the two huge towers of the original proposal.
Photos C. Zeballos.


Probably the most influential architect and theorist of our time, the Dutchman Rem Koolhaas was in its beginnings a journalist. Then he formed his office OMA (Office for Metropolitan Architecture), from which he outlined his important theories about architecture and its relationship to the virtual world of information. They also formed many famous architects such as Zaha Hadid, as well as other offices as FOA and AMO.

View of Koolhaas' blocks facing the street and defining a pedestrian passage in the neighborhood. Next, are the blocks of Steven Holl. Photo courtesy of El Croquis.

His proposal for was Nexus World conceived as the visual "base" of Isozaki's towers. Despite those have not been built, Koolhaas's proposal stands out for his significant interpretation of housing as well as for their spatial relations. The project consists of 24 units of three levels each, arranged in two blocks that have access to an interior street.

Rear view of one of the blocks.

Detail of the lateral ramp. Photo C. Zeballos

Detail of the roof.

The syntax of these blocks breaks with the tradition of settling the buildings upon a visually solid base. Instead, Koolhaas puts this solid black granite shell (which somehow reminds of Japanese castles) upon a much more transparent and light volume, which gives lightness to the composition, enhanced by the dynamism of the concrete roofing in the third level.

This provocative attitude of making the buildings "levitate", is frequent in Koolhaas' vocabulary, and can be seen in his earliest works, such as the Villa Dall'Ava in Paris, as well as the most recent ones, such as China Television Tower CCTV in Beijing.

Details of the Koolhaas' project. Click on the image to enlarge.

Koolhaas defines the public domain into the street, by means of a transparent and extroverted facade, while accommodating the entrance to the houses at the back. He also included a courtyard of white stones, a very traditional Japanese design feature. At the second level are the bedrooms, organized around corridors which also allocate the stairs. The rooms are generously lit by light wells and the large screens that are located on the third level.

The third level is covered by a series of dynamic roofs that allow an plentiful use of light and give a sensation on widening space, as well as contributing to a lighter formal expression of the block.

Interior of the house. Photo courtesy of The Sketch

Emulating the theories by Le Corbusier, the terraces are covered with grass.

Night view of one of the departments. Image courtesy of OMA


The renowned Catalan architect Oscar Tusquets White is remembered especially for his design of the Olympic Village housing in Barcelona.

His in housing project at Nexus World adopts a vocabulary influenced by the postmodernism of the 80's, bringing the image of a Mediterranean village to these remote Asian land. The palette of pastel colors, materials, shape of the windows and especially the entrance arch, correspond to this style.

Postmodernist language Oscar Tusquets.

This arch is intend to welcome the visitor to the complex, facing the street diagonally while linking the two buildings at its sides and became a kind of urban gate. This generates, in turn, a small little square, similar to that designed by Mark Mark in the other corner of the residential complex.

Entrance portico.


The award-winner American architect and theoretician Steven Holl is recognized by the dramatic form in which he uses light is in his project.

Holl's proposal for Nexus World is one of the most consistent of all because it is based on a basic principle of traditional Japanese architecture: flexibility. This functional quality is achieved through the use of so-called fusuma , which are opaque sliding panels that can be withdrawn at will, expanding or subdividing the ambient according to the requirements of the family.

Exterior views, courtesy of Steven Holl Architects.

Steven Holl proposed 28 departments organized into four blocks. Defined by movable partitions, the bedrooms can be converted into living spaces during the day (in Japan, futon is frequently used instead of bed, a kind of mattress that is stored in a closet during the day and unfolded on the floor during sleeping time). This flexibility also allows resizing rooms, when new children are born, or when children grow up and leave home or when the occupants'parents get older and move into the home together.

Interior of the departments showing their functional flexibility. Photos courtesy of Steven Holl Architects.

The project was awarded the AIA NY Honor Award in 1992 and an award from the defunct Progressive Architecture magazine in 1991.


American architect Mark Mack , based in California, has a long history of urban development projects, as well as institutional, commercial and especially residential buildings.

His proposal for Nexus World is located at the corner of a shopping street with a residential corner of the end of the Tusquets' building. In front of the commercial street frontage, the building sets back creating a small plaza, which was also landscaped by Mack.

Detail of the corner, includes the landscape design.

It consists of 29 housing units organized in 3 blocks that reach up to 6 levels. Using a varied and flexible typology that is inserted into a grid of 6 m, Mack protrudes balconies or removes parts of the volume, leaving the structure exposed at times.

Rear view of the building.


Renowned French architect Christian de Portzamparc was a Pritzker Prize laureate in 1994. Among his projects include the Citè de la Musique in Paris.

The Portzamparc's housing blocks are landscaped with water.
Photo C. Zeballos

For Nexus World, Potzamparc planned three gray housing blocks attached to a yellow tower, surmounted by a saucer-shaped hat, that houses the social spaces in an attempt to make a reference to the Japanese tradition. This was a mistake in Portzamparc's research, because although in traditional houses there are rooms separated from the main house, called "hamare" (which literally means "separate") they do not have a social function but they are used especially by children, where they will do their homework or play without disturbing their parents. The social space or "ima", where the family gathers or rests, is fully integrated into the house. For this reason, the "social rooms" in Portzamparc tower are often used as warehouses.

The rooms "social" tower did not fulfill its purpose.


Although he is not so well known in the West, Osamu Ishiyama has won the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale in 1996, for his criticism on Japanese architecture, especially after the Kobe earthquake in 1995. Among his highlights the Hiroshima House in Cambodia , a tribute to the victims of the Holocaust in that country .

Rebellious, dissatisfied and critical of the reality, his character is manifested in its architecture, in the case of Nexus World giving it a mechanical appearance, highlighting the idea of housing as a "machine for living" proclaiming by Le Corbusier , but in a much more formal than symbolic way. I must say that the work of Ishiyama is difficult to "read" from the outside, his use of exposed concrete and aluminum is imaginative but quite dense. He proposed 3 decentralized buildings to what he calls "tree house", and each represents a coconut, a banana and a pineapple respectively (see planimetry).

Despite his harsh language, the volumetry is quite dynamic, especially due to a slanted wall in one of the buildings and the dynamic cantilevers that crown the curved building (banana).

Detail of the slanted wall. At the time of the visit, one of the Ishiyama's buildings was being restaured .
Photo C. Zeballos

Nexus World has been one of the more interesting experiments on multifamily housing in recent years. It also adds to many notable projects by Western architects such as Aldo Rossi, Emilio Ambasz, Jon Jerde and others who have made ​​Fukuoka fertile ground for architectural experimentation. Surely it would have been even more if it would have been chosen to host the 2016 Olympic Games.


  1. Many thanks for your informative post! I recently visited NEXUS World, but since I only saw the buildings at street level, I missed much of the interesting aspects of the architecture.

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