Built around a cascading valley of rice terraces that reflect the horizon’s endless play of colours, the Kai Yufuin hot spring ryokan by Hoshino Resorts, is one of Kengo Kuma & Associates’ latest works. Composed of a public building, a bathhouse, guest rooms and separate villa suites, the project is defined by elements of traditional Japanese architecture and the region’s farmhouse vernacular that form the basis of the design. Located on the island of Kyushu in the Ōita Prefecture, famous for its hot springs especially in and around the city of Beppu, the Yufuin valley basin has an abundant resource of mineral-rich water. Both these elements unite in this project to form the identity of Kengo Kuma’s newest Japanese hospitality offering.
The lobby floor – made from a mixture of gravel, soil and lime – invokes tataki, or the traditional dirt floor entrance of an agricultural home; while the spherical shape of the front desk mimics kamado, the traditional farmhouse kitchen stove. Representative of an itama (room with wooden floor), the Travel Library has flooring made of bamboo, as well as lighting fixtures designed by Kuma from washi paper, inspired by the fluttering motions of local butterflies in the fields. Behind the library, the Rice Terrace Deck is a public space that looks out over the rice fields, with wooden flooring and seats composed of aromatic shichitoi (perennial grass) tatami, a material whose production and use are being revitalized in the region.
The vaporous indoor pool of Kai Yufuin’s bathhouse has dark, subdued colours, with black wood-grain panels plus walls and floors made of black pebbles, allowing the views of the imposing Mount Yufu to remain unadulterated. In the semi-private dining area, the walls are made of washi paper designed with local elements such as straw, rice, bamboo and shichitoi grass, once more evoking the aesthetics of a traditional farmhouse. The modest lighting, hanging over each table and made from wrinkled washi paper and thin bamboo sticks, is another Kuma original.
One of the most distinctive features of the property is its independent villa suites, bungalows nestled among the rice fields as single-storey farmhouses. Made of wood, the suites have a hipped roof shape – with black cedar planks typical of west Japan – which deviates from traditional Japanese architecture through the thin details of the eaves and the exterior’s strong textures. The interior’s cedar floors are finished with a technique called uki-zukuri, which allows the pattern of the wood to remain visible, while the veranda, in the back of the living room, opens it up further towards the landscape.
The structures, facing a Sawtooth oak forest, stand on a gentle slope and have their own private bathhouses made from cedar. Nodding to its location in a prefecture that produces the largest amount of giant bamboo timber in Japan, the hotel’s main guest building features rooms that are an expression of local bamboo crafts, and include bamboo headboards and sofas. Another distinct element in these rooms is the lighting, featuring a unique spiral shape made by shichitoi grass craftsman Chika Iwakiri and inspired by traditional firefly baskets, a further design detail directly connecting the property to its environment’s rich heritage.