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Creators of an Unprecedented World # 5 Bringing the design office and artisans together—interior renovations

Bringing the design office and artisans together—interior renovations

One day in May of 2021, we once again visited Ken’ichi Tanno, the construction manager for WIHL. It had been two months since we last met with Tanno, who is from KUMAGAI GUMI, a top-flight construction company. That was when the completed building was being handed over to Waseda. The spread of Covid-19 made it necessary to complete the construction work in less time than originally planned.
We, the staff of the library, wanted to express our gratitude to him once again for his warm reception. Every time we visited him during the construction, he was waiting for us with hard hats for all the members of our team. Today, we came here to hear some insider stories about the renovation of Building 4.

Ken’ichi Tanno (KUMAGAI GUMI Co., LTD.)

Continued from the previous article. Click here for the previous article (Exterior renovations)

Ken’ichi Tanno walks from WIHL’s main entrance to the inside of the building. WIHL’s tunnel is not just an exterior feature. An arch of louvers continues from the entrance to the staircase bookshelves.

“It was quite difficult to get this right. There are stainless-steel cores built into the tops of the arched louvers above the stairs,” Tanno told us. No matter how carefully we looked, however, we couldn’t see any seams.Tanno encouraged us to try harder. “Look from this angle.”
[After following his advice we could finally see that the wooden louvers had been hollowed out and some material had been set in the groove, barely perceptible.]
“To give strength to a wooden element like this, you need a very tough core material. We worked hard to create the form while providing the durability specified by the design office.”Even the small screws were carefully selected to match the color of the wood and perfectly achieve Kengo Kuma’s design vision.

We asked Tanno, “The treads on the stairs look quite thin. Are they safe and durable?”
“That’s very observant of you. Yes, though they are really thin,” Tanno adds with a crafty smile.
[What does that smile mean? Are the stairs really okay?]
“Actually, there are steel frames set into the bottoms of the stair treads. They serve as a foundation to support the thin boards,” he replied.Tanno went on to explain the staircase bookshelf’s four stages of construction. First, a scaffold was erected and the bookshelves were installed in the atrium. Next, the scaffolding was removed and the steel frames were installed to form the bottoms of the stairs. After that, the scaffolding was set in place again and the arch was installed above the atrium. Finally, the thin stair treads were placed on the steel frames. It seems to have been very challenging work. Thinking about these four stages of construction casts the staircase bookshelves in a different light.

It could not have been easy to ensure durability and safety while achieving beauty in design.
Nevertheless, Tanno proudly explained, “The power of this work site, combined with those artisans, is wonderful. They have been involved in fine construction all their lives. They are the ultimate professionals. Unlike them, I can’t build anything myself.” He laughs gently, but we want to tell him that construction managers like him are also the ultimate professionals.

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