In an era of increasing awareness of climate issues, it’s become common to see
new libraries, schools and other public
buildings built on solar and efficiency
principles. But buildings housing social
services are an exception: They rarely
use solar energy and other energy-efficient
features. Whether due to limited finances or
poor imagination, social services facilities tend
to be institutional and uninspiring.
Recently, while visiting Japan, we discovered a few social services facilities using progressive design (see “Satonokaze: Solar Meets
Social Design in Japan,” March/April 2008).
The Aozora (Blue Skies) Children’s Home,
designed by Satonokaze architect Seiji Nii,
includes several imaginative design features
that improve energy efficiency while adding
to the comfort and utility of the building.
Located in Osaka Prefecture (population 8.8
million), Aozora provides residential care
services to 66 children, from toddlers through
high school age, who seek refuge from troubled
home environments. In a country where family
and community life are all-important, Aozora
attempts to blend into its neighborhood in
wa way that enhances social interactions and
To learn more about the Aozora Children’s
Home, we interviewed Ms. Ryoko Nagano, the
Facing page, the Aozora children’s home provides a cheerful and supportive environment,
right in the city of Osaka. Left, an exterior
wall is decorated with tiles made by children.
Above, the living units at Aozora open to a central courtyard.
facility’s director, along with architect Seiji Nii
and his wife and business manager Ruriko Nii.
The Crumes: Tell us about the design concept for Aozora.
Ms. Nagano: We wanted a facility that is
comfortable and nurturing for the children,
and at the same time, economical to operate
and friendly to the environment. Our building
consists of four separate living quarters, each
designed with a home-like atmosphere that
includes a living room and kitchen, bedrooms
wanted the children to learn about environmental stewardship firsthand by living in an environmentally responsible building. In the 21st
century, good citizenship means taking care of
the Earth for future generations to enjoy.
The Crumes: We have noticed that the Japanese are serious about energy conservation. Is
this green facility representative of other new
construction in Japan?
Mr. Nii: Japan is a small country with a large
population. Out of necessity, we have small
houses and cars and really depend on public
Aozora’s green roof features 4.6 kilowatts of photovoltaic modules and a solar water-heating system.
and a front entrance facing a central courtyard.
Of course, the boys and girls live in separate
quarters, and the older children have private
bedrooms. The facility also has study, recreation and meeting rooms, and hotel-type accommodations are available for visiting family
members and potential foster parents.
The Crumes: Why include solar and en-ergy-conservation features into a children’s
Ms. Nagano: Because funding is often limited for public facilities, we wanted to reduce
our operating costs by decreasing energy consumption. But there is a much more important
reason: Rather than building a facility resembling the institutional designs of the past, we
wanted the children to live in a more uplifting setting, and solar facilities tend to be just
that — bright, cheerful and inspiring. We also
transportation. Although most families can
afford to buy a clothes drying machine, we often hang our clothes out to dry to take advantage of the warm sunlight. Also, eco-friendly
merchandise like recycled paper products are
popular in Japan. On the other hand, energy-efficient buildings are not yet so common. To
my knowledge, no one has designed a facility
quite like Aozora.
The Crumes: What are the solar and energy-conserving features of Aozora?
Mr. Nii: Like other solar buildings, we have
good insulation, south-facing windows, a vine-covered trellis for summertime window shading, day-lighting and skylights, and energy-efficient lights and appliances. We also have
a green roof, a rainwater collection system, a
solar hot water heater and rooftop-mounted
photovoltaic cells (The home’s PV panel is
solartoday.org SOLAR TODAY May 2009 45
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