Restoration of Japan’s Hizuchi Elementary School Wins World Monuments Fund Modernism Prize

An architectural consortium’s restoration of typhoon-ravaged (and generally down-at-the-heel) Hizuchi Elementary School has cliched the 2012 World Monuments Fund/Knoll Modernism Prize, awarded biennially to an innovative architectural or design solution that has preserved or enhanced a modern landmark. The prize—$10,000 and a limited-edition Barcelona chair created by Knoll especially for the occasion—has previously gone to Bierman Henket architecten and Wessel de Jonge architects for their restoration of the Zonnestraal Sanatorium in the Dutch town of Hilversum and Brenne Gesellschaft von Architekten’s restoration of the former ADGB Trade Union School in Bernau, Germany.

Located on Japan’s Shikoku Island, Hizuchi Elementary School was designed by Japanese municipal architect Masatsune Matsumura and completed in the late 1950s. It’s a rare example of a modern structure that’s constructed primarily of wood and features dual-façade fenestration, a glass exterior hallway that runs the length of the school, and, taking full advantage of its riverfront site, a suspended outdoor reading balcony off the library and a floating staircase that protrudes over the Kiki River. After incurring serious damage from a 2004 typhoon, the school was at the center of a two-year debate over whether to demolish or preserve the structure. The meticulous restoration, carried out over three years, won the 2012 Annual Award of the Architectural Institute of Japan.

“The award-winning project—a humble, functional building in a small Japanese city—and the story of people coming together for its preservation—is emblematic of the important role that modern architecture can play in communities around the world,” said WMF president Bonnie Burnham in a statement. The prize will be presented at New York’s Museum of Modern Art on November 13 followed by a free public lecture.