The February 2022 issue of the National Credit Union Association’s magazine, “Shinyou Kinko,” featured an interview article related to “vectorfield architects”. In this article, Hideo Yano, the representative, was interviewed by Hirokazu Tanaka, who is leading the “Hirokazu Tanaka Movement” with the goal of setting a Guinness World Record for gatherings of people with the same name. We have received permission to reproduce the interview here.
Considering from the perspective of the Reiwa era, let’s discuss #17 – “Spatial Art from Yamagata to the World (Reimagining Local History in the Present)”
Reconnecting with Architect Hidehiro Yano
I first met Hidehiro Yano, the architect I interviewed this time, over a decade ago when I was involved in the design and interior work for a certain mega bank’s branch, led by the world-renowned architect Tadao Ando. I vividly remember my first impression of Mr. Yano, a self-taught architect who started as a professional boxer and became an extraordinary maestro. He was a quiet and brilliant assistant.
To introduce his career, he was born in Yamagata Prefecture in 1967. After graduating from the Department of Architecture at the University of Tokyo in 1991, he studied under architect Tadao Ando until 2015, working on architectural and landscape designs. After that, he embarked on an independent career. He established vectorfield architects in his hometown, Yamagata City, and also served as a special adjunct professor at Tohoku University of Community Service and Science .
Our reconnection was initiated by Mr. Yano receiving the Good Design Award for three consecutive years, as he announced on Facebook. I asked him about his current activities, now based in Yamagata City.
Establishing vectorfield architects
- Can you tell me the reason for your decision to establish your own practice and become an entrepreneur in Yamagata after leaving Ando’s office?
On March 11, 2011, while I was on a business trip in South Korea, returning to Incheon Airport, I received a call from Ando’s office and learned about the Great East Japan Earthquake. Even if I returned to Osaka, I felt helpless and frustrated, as there was nothing I could do for the Tohoku region.
Tadao Ando had previously said, “This office will end with me, and I will close it when I retire. I won’t leave it behind.” After some time, I gathered the courage to break away and decided to start my practice in Yamagata.
At Ando’s office in Osaka, staff members in charge of different locations, such as Seoul, New York, Paris, and Beijing, would communicate directly with local partner offices without going through Tokyo, using email to conduct business. Over the past 20 years, there has been remarkable progress in digitalization and IT. Information that was previously impossible to transmit, due to its large size, can now be sent instantaneously to the other side of the globe.
If you can work directly with the world from Osaka, then you should be able to do the same from Yamagata, as long as you have the digital infrastructure in place. That’s what I thought.
- What was the inspiration behind naming your own first-class architect’s office the “vectorfield architects (in Japanese ” 空間芸術研究所” =”Spatial Art Institute”)”?
At Ando’s office, I learned the approach of creating environments encompassing more than just architecture. It extended from architecture to interior design, landscape, and urban planning, dealing with everything from the micro to the macro aspects of human environments. Initially, I was searching for words like “environment,” but they were quite commonly used. After some research, I found “Spatial Art Institute” as a term that hadn’t been extensively used, and I decided to go with it.
Rediscovering the Charms of Yamagata
- Have you noticed anything after returning to your hometown?
Yamagata has been shaped by a history with relatively few natural disasters and wartime destruction. Over the centuries, it has accumulated a rich cultural heritage in terms of buildings and more. It’s often said that in the entire Eastern world, only two cities, Kanazawa and Yamagata, have been spared from such calamities for over 300 years. However, the locals sometimes fail to realize the beauty of their own city.
Yamagata Prefecture is divided into four regions: the Murayama region where Yamagata City is located, the Okitama region with Yonezawa City, the Mogami region with Shinjo City, and the Shonai and Sakata regions. These four regions differ significantly in language and culture, and it’s sometimes surprising to see how such diverse people come together as one community. Connecting these regions is the sacred Mogami River. The Mogami River, one of Japan’s three great rapid rivers and famously known for Basho’s haiku “Gathering May rains, early at Mogami River,” not only connects the various parts of Yamagata but also served as the origin of exchanges between Yamagata and the rest of Japan through Sakata’s port and the Kitamae ships to Edo, Kyoto, and Osaka.
Reviving Yamagata’s History
- Rivers, as a source of flowing water for humans, have a significant impact not only on daily life but also on culture, politics, and the economy. It seems that your 2021 Good Design Award-winning work is also related to the water flow in Yamagata City.
Within Yamagata City, a network of canals called “Yamagata Goseki” flows like a lattice, originating from the natural river, Mamigasaki-gawa, which was channeled by the local lord during the early Edo period. Originally, this water system served as a source of daily life water for washing and irrigation for rice fields, as well as water for the moat of the castle.
However, during the post-war period of high economic growth, domestic and industrial wastewater began to flow into the Yamagata Goseki. The waterways, which were originally constructed with stone masonry, were covered or paved with concrete.
About five years ago, I participated in a competition for the replacement of a facility called the Yamagata Tax Accountants’ Association Building. When I visited the new site, there was a two-story town factory on the land, and a watercourse that was nearly hidden between the neighboring buildings, making it almost invisible without peering over.
During the construction of the new tax accountants’ association building, I proposed creating a waterside plaza facing the Goten-zeki, a watercourse that had been paved with concrete, which was met with appreciation. However, the Goten-zeki waterway itself was owned and managed by the city of Yamagata and a water users’ association, and I was not allowed to touch it.
However, about a year after the completion of the building, I received a call from the relevant department of Yamagata City. They informed me that they were going to undertake the Goten-zeki in front of the tax accountants’ association building as part of an urban landscape improvement project and asked for my advice.
From there, I became involved in supervising the landscape design, and this ultimately led to the award of the Good Design Award in 2021 for the “Revival of the Historical Watercourse ‘Goten-zeki’ in the Urban Landscape Design” (to be continued).
written by Hirokazu TANAKA