Architecture without new architecture
We don’t always need to build—many resources can be reused, repurposed, or reimagined. Or at least, this is what becomes clear once we discover Nobuyoshi Yokota’s project “Architecture Without New Architecture”, which proposes a radical reimagining of abandoned railway infrastructure in the south of Switzerland, while supporting professional reinsertion. “When we create new concepts, we do not necessarily need new production;” says Yokota. “New concepts can be created through reuse and re-adaptation.”
Yokota is a second-year student at HEAD’s Master in Interior Architecture (MAIA), and the project “Architecture Without New Architecture”, developed in the context of the masters program as part of the studio lead by Leonid Slominskiy, was a finalist of the 7th edition of the Red Cross’s Prix Art Humanité in 2021. Before joining HEAD in 2020, Yokota did not have a particular interest in themes related to sustainability. As he pursued his studies at the school, he began to reflect on his education and professional experiences in Japan, and started reflecting on how he saw things differently between his new host country of Switzerland and his home country.
“When I was working for a Japanese architectural firm, themes such as sustainability and ecology existed,” Yokota points out. “However, they were engineering themes, such as installing new facilities that reduce energy emissions. The project ‘Architecture Without New Architecture’ was the first time I considered a primitive architectural approach to these themes.” The project has its origins in the studio RE:WORK!, taught by architect Leonid Slominskiy. Students were invited to investigate the future of work, while simultaneously engaging with material reuse to create appropriate programs and design strategies.
The studio work centered around the idea of “rebirth”, and through visits and research, students were introduced to abandoned railway infrastructure throughout Switzerland. It was then that Yokota identified his site, an abandoned railway guard house in Crans-près-Céligny. The railway guardhouse, a small-scale construction, is a common sight all over Switzerland. From 1854 to about 1900, almost all of Switzerland’s railroad network was built. Alongside the tracks, railway guardhouses accompanied the infrastructural development. Once built, the houses hosted the railroad staff and their families, who maintained the tracks and the land surrounding them.
Located at regular intervals and featuring a shared typology, these guardhouses were built regardless of an urban or rural location, sometimes integrated onto the station platform. Additionally, some offered additional facilities, such as production spaces for workers, or storage spaces for emergency supplies. For Nobuyoshi Yokota, these unused spaces provided the perfect opportunity to think about professional reintegration and material reuse. After the kick-off of the studio, he traveled the length of the railway between Genève and Lausanne by bicycle to explore these structures, and in this way came to the choice of Crans-près-Céligny.
This particular guardhouse was located in a rectangular plot alongside the tracks. The house was placed in the southwest corner of the plot, with its shorter side aligned with the railway; at the opposite side of the plot, a small warehouse anchored the northeast edge of the plot. For Yokota, the intervention started by visiting the site and communicating with the tenants. An exploration of the other guardhouses along the next sections of the rail connection between Genève and Lausanne allowed him to identify the adjacent infrastructures and their status. He cataloged the existing materials and with Crans-près-Céligny as the center of the project, proposed an acupunctural intervention with multiple levels of impact.
In Yokota’s proposal, the pathway between the existing house and the warehouse volume is covered to create a simple roof, while in the second floor of the existing house, a new wall is created to isolate the sound of the passing trains. All the new elements in this composition are created using salvaged and reused materials from nearby railway guardhouses, and the ensemble becomes a center for professional training and knowledge exchange. Working with a contextual knowledge of the region, Yokota proposes winemaking as a fundamental skill to rekindle in the area.
“Just as vineyards once spread along the river, a new wine network will be reconstructed along the railroad tracks,” his project proposes. “There, grape farms, distilleries that produce original wines, stores, and restaurants will circulate in unison.” For the site in Crans-près-Céligny, Yokota proposes a small wine distillery and residence where professional training in winemaking can happen, establishing new relations and encounters in the local community. Combining past with present, local traditions with contemporary needs, Yokota’s project manages to be simultaneously relevant at a local level, while dealing with themes of global resonance.
The poetic images evoked by his proposal are combined with a serious, meticulous approach to the project documentation. Drawings, plans, and models offer a rigorous account of the steps needed to make this intervention come to fruition. In its ensemble, the project provides a concrete framework for a future that is not so far ahead of us – and with a few determined steps, could become part of our daily lives in the next few years.