Our Town Yokohama
Red Brick Warehouses win UNESCO Award
The Yokohama Red Brick Warehouses will celebrate their hundredth birthday next year. The 2010 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Award of Distinction comes as an early birthday present, one that the warehouses, and the city that has restored them so sensitively, well deserve.
Designed by Tsumaki Yorinaka for Japan’s Ministry of Finance and built just north of the main passenger pier in the Port of Yokohama, these buildings were bonded customs warehouses through which imports passed. Built of red brick, then a material signifying sophisticated modernity, they incorporated such innovative features as elevators and fire extinguishers. Unlike many brick structures, Tsumaki’s warehouses survived the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake in reasonably good shape. One of the 10,755 square meter warehouses was intact. Half of the other collapsed, but the other half was returned to use.
The warehouses served on through the war and reconstruction, but by 1989, their usefulness was over. With the shift to container shipping and deeper-draft vessels, activity in the port had moved away from the original area. What had been cutting edge in 1911 had become sadly outmoded and decrepit. The warehouses were headed for the scrap heap.
The city of Yokohama was, however, planning to revitalize its historic port area. Recognizing that the Red Brick Warehouses could serve as one of the keystones of waterfront redevelopment, the city acquired them from the national government and then spent a decade on renovations.
The renovations, designed by Chiaki Arai Architect and Associates and executed by Takenaka Corporation, were completed in 2002. The structures have been sensitively restored, with details from the decorative iron finials to the massive interior steels doors and their huge hinges back in place.
The larger of the two warehouses is now a commercial space, with a variety of shops and restaurants, the most exciting of which is a live jazz spot offering world-class performances. (Jazz and Yokohama have a long and vital history.) The smaller is now a multipurpose public space that hosts concerts, exhibitions, films, and dance festivals. The space around them attracts an amazing variety of events, from ice skating to Oktoberfests to brilliant lighting displays.
Visiting the Red Brick Warehouses is always a delight. Whether walking there as part of a long waterfront stroll or heading there from Bashamichi Station for a specific event, I experience a little thrill at how handsome they are and how beautifully they have been restored. As a Yokohama resident, I had been intrigued by the restorations as they proceeded behind tall steel fences. Seeing the tall protective roof structure, slowly rolling the length of each building as the work proceeded, whetted my curiosity. The results exceeded my expectations from the moment I saw them and have continued to do so with every visit.
Well done, Yokohama! Congratulations on the Asia-Pacific Heritage Award!
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