It only took a matter of minutes for a tsunami wave to reduce Onagawa Station to a pile of rubble. The one-story, tile-roofed train station in Miyagi Prefecture, Japan, was just 50 miles from the epicenter of the magnitude-8.9 earthquake that sent a series of 10- to 20-foot-high waves crashing into Japan’s main island of Honshu on March 11, 2011. The structure was one of 127,000 buildings that were completely destroyed, with another 1 million reporting some damage. More than 15,000 people lost their lives.
Four years later, almost to the date, a new train station stands in Onagawa, this one designed by Shigeru Ban, Hon. FAIA. The airy three-story, 900-square-meter
(9,682-square-foot) structure—the eastern terminus of the Ishinomaki Line, which
runs from Kogota Station, in Misato, to Onagawa on the east coast—was sited about
500 feet inland from the original building footprint.
Topped with a gently sloped, tensile-membrane roof inspired by the outstretched wings of a seabird, the cedar-and-steel-pipe-beam structure serves as a symbol of the community’s resilience. At night, the illuminated station casts a warm glow through the translucent white membrane, “symbolizing a reconstruction of the town from the disaster,” says Yasunori Harano, project architect for Shigeru Ban Architects.
The taut roof form is supported by a wooden lattice, a signature of Ban’s work. The lattice members are left exposed in the station’s interior spaces, which include a public bathhouse that had been originally housed in a separate facility that was also destroyed by the tsunami, as well as a public plaza and esplanade.
The lattice is made of laminated veneer lumber (LVL) arches constructed from Japanese larch (Larix kaempferi),
which is native to the country and appears in everything from furniture to
boats to utility poles. Harano and the project team needed to warp the 2-foot-wide LVL beams to
achieve the desired curvature and roof height, but at 90 millimeters (3.5 inches)
thick, the lumber wasn’t bending properly. The designers worked with local
timber subcontractor Key-Tec Co. to slice the LVL lengthwise and warp each half separately before layering them back together during
This created a new challenge. The stacked LVL layers needed to be connected with custom wooden
bolts, but to drill the bolt holes after the wood was warped would “take time
and lack in accuracy,” Ban says. Subsequently Harano’s team created a 3D model
of the lattice structure that included the final location of each bolt in the curved
LVL beams to determine where to drill the 16-millimeter-diameter holes in the
pre-bent wood. The arches were then transported to the construction site, where
they were assembled by the contractor.
The final roof structure features 76 crisscrossing arches, with many spanning more than 55 feet. Each arch intersection in the lattice is secured with the same custom bolts that connect the stacked LVL layers. The wooden bolt heads, which are left visible and slightly paler in tone than the LVL, are arranged in alternating geometric patterns—specifically an eight-studded circle and a square with inverted corners.
The building’s completion earlier this year coincided with the
reopening of the Inishomaki Line, reconnecting the seaside town to the rest of
the country. By combining the train terminal, a bathhouse, retail spaces, and a
third-floor platform from which visitors can admire Onagawa Bay, Ban hopes the
station will serve as a gathering place for the community and a symbol of its resilience and recovery.