When Showa Sekkei started in 1957 (then known as Showa Associated Architects), the Japanese firm set out with the mission to contribute to society by realizing the human spirit and essence in their firm, that is, their clients, employees and the talents that contribute with them from different fields. A look at their portfolio and the design ideology is visible – the use of technology, knowledge and their 60+ years of experience producing the best outcome envisioned by the client. Among their vast portfolio that includes Medical, Educational, Residential, Recreational, Commercial, and Water & Sewage projects, the Maishima Incineration Plant often attracts attention for how distinct it stands among other tasks.

Maishima Incineration Plant by Showa Sekkei - Sheet1
Ariel View of MOP_©www.japantimes.co.jp

Then the man-made island of Osaka Bay bided to host the 2008 Summer Olympics, and Maishima was chosen as the main venue. Thus, work was carried out to make the region attractive and suitable for Olympics. This plan included the Maishima Incineration Plant, a plant with a 33,000 m2 floor area amid an industrial zone of the city. The plant was planned and executed by Showa Sekkei and designed by the Austrian artist and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser, known for his organic and playful interpretation of design. With Hunderwatssers’ design ideology, Showa Sekkei’s ideology, and years of expertise in the civil works of water and sewage, the product culminated in an entirely out-of-context, playful, and colourful Castle. This castle was built to burn waste.

Maishima Incineration Plant by Showa Sekkei - Sheet2
Elevation_©www.sai.org.uk

Design

When building an incineration plant, one would expect a typical box that served its function, but the Maishima performs beyond what’s dictated. The exterior design involves organic and wayward patterns, with multiple pops of colours at random regions of the facade. Materials also keep changing between glazed glass, metal, stones and cladding, and windows that serve as ornamentation. The highlight of the incineration plant would be the 120-meter tall tower with two chimneys inside, brightly visible in blue, ending its height with a golden blob. Red metallic vines that creep up the structure’s surface are a feature that depicts flames. The landscape on the site extends further onto the built as rooftop gardens (another part often found in Hundertwassers’ designs), which also include trees that were on-site before construction. 

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View of the Chimney Tower_©www.hundertwasser-kalender.de

The constricted design and planning of an incineration plant did not stop Showa Sekkei and Hundertwasser from enhancing the interiors – for the fantasyland doesn’t end with the facade but seeps further, influencing the corridors, gateways, elevators, windows, etc., adding small gestures and nuances of the exterior design. The organic facade, uneven and non-uniform placement of elements, and pop of colours in various shapes, with these design implications, the aim was to establish how technology, ecology, and art, can work in harmony in that contributes to the local context. But this also sheds light on specific typologies (structure left neglected, undermined, or required to serve the primary purpose), which can be reinvented as a more appreciable component of the urban landscape.

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Interior 1_©www.kansai-odyssey.com
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Interior 2_©www.hirakata46.com

Planning

The incineration plant is divided into two zones: a crushing facility for bulky waste and an incineration facility that burns waste. While this portion of the facility functions to crush and burn garbage, three floors have been dedicated to visitors, especially children, as an adventure park with a didactic function to spread awareness and encourage people about waste management and striving to live in a waste-free society.

Maishima Incineration Plant by Showa Sekkei - Sheet6
Sketch by Hundertwasser_©www.hundertwasser.com

Impact of the structure

The incineration plant, which costs roughly 600 million dollars, can process 900 tonnes of garbage daily, managing the waste produced by 2.6 million residents in Osaka City. The plant uses the exhausted steam when burning waste to generate electricity that helps function the facility, causing a power output of 32,000 kW. The excess is sold off to power companies. Besides its primary function, the structure is also a landmark that receives 15,000 elementary student visits annually and another 12,000 – 15,000 accidental visitors who mistake it for Disneyland or an extension of the neighbouring Universal Studio Japan. These unexpected visitors are welcomed into the structure and given tours and insight into the process within the whimsical walls. 

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Every column was designed unique_©www.showa-sekkei.co.jp

Comparison

Showa Sekkei group follows a modest and straightforward approach to design, with a twist in particular elements like roofs, materials, construction techniques, indoor-outdoor connection, etc. But the Maishima plant is an exception – where it’s the approach of Showa Sekkei, but the twist delivered by Hundertwasser; two representations of design ideologies that complement and work holistically, contributing to the same vision of encouraging the importance of the environment.

Various detail and characters in design_©www.gabateachinginjapan.com

Conclusion

At first glance, it would be impossible to state that the building is an incineration plant (even if the smell doesn’t escape the plant to give it away). But what needs to be observed is that, despite its function and restrictions in construction, the design not just delivered a powerful incineration plant for the city but also a thought-provoking reminder that prods its users to act upon the vision of its architects- all by being an exuberant and whimsical volume of an incinerator. 

References:

College of LSA: U-M LSA U-M College of LSA (2018) U [online]. Available at: https://lsa.umich.edu/  (Accessed: November 11, 2022).

Maishima Incineration Plant, Osaka, Japan (2019) YouTube. YouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sFzJks3MmQ0&ab_channel=RaineBaljak  (Accessed: November 11, 2022). 

KansaiOdyssey (2022) Maishima Incineration Plant: World’s Prettiest Garbage Facility?, Kansai Odyssey [online]. Available at: http://kansai-odyssey.com/maishima-incineration-plant-osaka/  (Accessed: November 10, 2022).

Maishima waste-to-energy facility, Japan (2022) Power Technology [online]. Available at: https://www.power-technology.com/marketdata/maishima-waste-to-energy-facility-japan/  (Accessed: November 11, 2022).

“mop” Maishima Müllverbrennungsanlage (2022) Hundertwasser [online].Available at: https://hundertwasser.com/en/architecture/arch122_mop_maishima_muellverbrennungsanlage_1550  (Accessed: November 10, 2022).

Sturmer, J. (2018) The Japanese rubbish incinerator that looks like a theme park, ABC News. ABC News [online]. Available at: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-05-21/the-japanese-waste-incinerator-that-has-its-own-tripadvisor-page/9780872  (Accessed: November 10, 2022). 

Author

She’s a recent graduate who enjoys being lost in figuring out the mysteries of architecture’s subconscious effect on the human mind and body. Story, Comedy, and everything satirically nice; these were the ingredients chosen to create the extra lens, which she views architecture with.

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