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Azure Magazine November December 2022 Cover: The Residential Interiors Issue

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Many destination dining spots seek to inspire a deeper appreciation for the ground in which their ingredients are grown, either by extensively detailing each vegetable’s origins on their menus or by harvesting them directly onsite. In Ube, Japan, architect Junya Ishigami has helped a childhood friend open a restaurant that takes a different approach, highlighting the connection between soil and sustenance by operating out of a mud-encased cave sunken right into the earth.

A cave restaurant in Japan designed by Junya Ishigami is dug out into the ground.

Ishigami’s friend, chef Motonori Hirata, initially approached the designer looking to capture “the roughness of nature,” saying that, “Authentic cuisines require such a place.”

The idea of something heavy and weathered also spoke to Hirata’s desire for a timeless building with a feeling of pre-existing history. Adding to the challenge was the fact that the design had to accommodate not just the chef’s restaurant, but also housing for him and his family.

The concept that Ishigami and his team developed positions the building’s white-painted concrete roof at grade, hiding its cave-like dining and living spaces underground within an excavated trench.

A cave restaurant in Japan designed by Junya Ishigami features a subterranean kitchen framed by a mud-encased concrete arch.

The restaurant is focused at the northern end of the site, separated from the southern residence by a trio of open-air courtyards. 

Photos courtesy of maison owl.
A cave restaurant in Japan designed by Junya Ishigami was built by pouring concrete into holes dug into the ground.

The primordial appearance of the structure hides the complex technology behind its construction process. Originally developed as a massing model, the design was then converted into 3D data and input into a total station surveying instrument. Working off coordinates from that instrument’s pile mapping, the construction team then dug a series of holes, effectively forming a giant mould that was later filled with concrete. Once the concrete had hardened, the final structure was dug out like a buried fossil.

A cave restaurant in Japan designed by Junya Ishigami doubles as the chef's home, featuring a sunken bathtub.

While the original plan was to wash the building clean after excavation, the rich hues and textured look of its mud coating inspired Junya Ishigami + Associates to instead embrace it as part of the design. Many of the building’s interior spaces were also different than the designers had anticipated, prompting them to adapt their planned furniture placements to take better advantage of the actual structure.

A cave restaurant in Japan designed by Junya Ishigami doubles as the chef's home, featuring a sunken personal kitchen.
Photo courtesy of Yashiro Photo Office.

Similarly, the building’s glass walls — several of which are hinged to open and close — had to be carefully customized to the project’s final dimensions based on physical measurements and 3D scans. In this way, a large part of the design became an exercise in reverse-engineering.

A cave restaurant in Japan designed by Junya Ishigami doubles as the chef's home, featuring a sunken conversation pit.

Archways between the building’s substantial columns link its many spectacular spaces, which include a living room with a sunken conversation pit and a bathing alcove with a tub completely encased in the floor.

A cave restaurant in Japan designed by Junya Ishigami is framed by arched glass windows.

Along the building’s edge, curved walls of glass frame spectacular lookouts to the site’s lush subterranean gardens, while three skylights introduce additional natural light. With his cave-like concept, Junya Ishigami has effectively laid the groundwork for a restaurant that is as much a part of its terrain as any root vegetable.

Junya Ishigami Designs a Cave-Like Culinary Experience in Japan

The Tokyo architect creates a down-to-earth — yet completely out of-this-world — dining spot that doubles as a chef’s family home.

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