December 2023
text Bronwel Rolls and HK Architekten | photo Arch. DI Roland Wehiger and company Takenaka

Insight into the exciting YKK project in Japan – exclusive interview with the project team

For many years HK Architekten has been working on projects around the world, and the latest destination on our international journey is Kurobe, Japan.

Since hearing Hermann Kaufmann give a lecture in Japan on the subject of timber architecture and sustainability in 2018, Mr. Yoshida, the Managing Director, YKK EUROPE, has visited our offices in Schwarzach to find out more about our work and our capabilities. YKK has made a vast sustainability commitment and saw an alignment with our philosophy.

Founded in 1934, they have grown to become the world’s largest manufacture zippers and fastening solutions. Employing of 40,000 people and with a presence in over 70 countries, YKK is known for innovation, precision engineering, and commitment to sustainable practices.

They want to achieve carbon neutrality and zero waste. Through innovative practices, renewable energy, and circular economy principles, YKK aims to minimise their environmental impact, fostering a more sustainable and responsible future. This is why they wanted HK Architekten on board to deliver their latest development project.

The HK team working on the project will pay their first to Japan this month. To introduce the project and to start telling the project’s story we have interviewed one of the projects architects Verena Rauh (VR) and Hermann Kaufmann (HK).

What part of this project fascinates you the most?
VR : What is most interesting about the project, apart from the sustainable theme, construction methods, etc., is the intercultural exchange. We are building a collection of apartments to house some employee, as well as multiple rental units for private occupancy. The project will then enter a second phase to include multi-purpose rooms, residents’ gardens and exhibition spaces.

What elements of international projects do you enjoy the most?
HK: I enjoy it very much that we can get to know people and their culture intensively in international projects. This is always an enrichment for us. An international project also helps us to define our own position.

As the planning architects for YKK, what is your role in the project?
HK: As the planning architects we are responsible for the design, construction, and materialisation. The plans are drawn in Japan based on our designs. We have a local partner for this, the company Takeneka. Takeneka is also responsible for the implementation of the project, i.e., they are the general contractor.

How does this project fit inside the client’s wide sustainability efforts?
VR: The project is part of a “Passive Town” – a lighthouse project with “Power to Gas” system. We are trying to translate our experience and know-how from timber construction to the project in Japan, which is compatible with the local conditions (earthquake, snow).

What elements of the project are you most proud of?
VR: I am proud that our timber construction is known as far away as Japan. It is nice to be able to show our qualities, our good, detailed planning there.

What are you looking forward to the most in visiting the client in Japan?
VR: I’m looking forward to seeing the conditions from the plan on site, to seeing the Japanese colleagues directly (not via the camera) – and of course to the country itself.

What have you learned from this project so far?
HK: In this project we got to know the most different approaches to building in both countries. Especially regarding timber construction, we have advanced a little further in terms of both technology and the competence of the timber construction companies. We also learned what it means to build in earthquake zones and that the Japanese fire protection regulations are still a major obstacle to timber construction.

The project will continue until 2024. Between now and then we will share the developments as they progress and become real in Kurobe.