Pritzker Winner Ito’s Sustainable Dome Still Shines

As much of the professional sports world clamors for new ever-more-elaborate entertainment palaces with retractable roofs, a lot can still be learned from some of the old masters of civic architecture. For example, Toyo Ito, the 71-year-old Japanese master, who recently won the coveted Pritzker Architecture Prize, still looks ahead of his time for the 1997 design of the Odate Dome in Japan’s Akita Prefecture.

Built with steel and more than 25,000 pieces of locally sourced and sustainably harvested Akita cypress wood, the elegant Odate Dome seem to rest like an ephemeral soap bubble on the land, bordered by rice paddies. For 16 years, the laminated beams and tough, semi-transparent Teflon coating have repelled snow and monsoon rains while allowing copious amounts of daylight to flood the interior.

One of many seating configurations in the dome, supported by 25,000 pieces of sustainably sourced wood. Image by Mikio Kamaya via Toyo Ito & Associates.

One of many seating configurations in the Odate Dome, supported by 25,000 pieces of sustainably sourced wood. Image by Mikio Kamaya via Toyo Ito & Associates.

Durability was an important aspect of Ito’s stadium design because Akita is subject to strong annual monsoon wind and rain can be punishing on some buildings. The ribbed design of the Teflon roof helps channel storm water away, while the streamlined shape is positioned so that the prevailing winds flow easily over the 170-foot-tall arc of the roof.

Toyo Ito's Odate Dome appears to float like a soap bubble among rice paddies in Japan. Image by Mikio Kamaya via Toyo Ito & Associates.

Toyo Ito’s dome appears to float like a soap bubble among rice paddies in Japan. Image by Mikio Kamaya via Toyo Ito & Associates.

The roof comes all the way down to just before the base of the dome, which is recessed to expose the steel and wood support beams. The ground floor can be glassed in during the winter or opened up to provide ventilation during hot weather. According to a recent retrospective article on Arch Daily, this effect makes the dome feel more open to visitors and give the impression that the roof is hovering just above the ground.

Inside, natural light floods the arena, significantly reducing electricity demand for daytime events. Image by Mikio Kamaya via Toyo Ito & Associates.

Inside, natural light floods the arena, significantly reducing electricity demand for daytime events. Image by Mikio Kamaya via Toyo Ito & Associates.

Inside, spectators can enjoy diffused daylight that is spread evenly throughout the 250,000-square-foot interior. The daylighting helps reduce electricity usage and reduces overall carbon emissions produced by the facility. The multiple uses of the dome range from baseball and soccer games to sumo wrestling tournaments and musical performances.

Randy Woods is a Seattle-based writer and editor with 20+ years of experience in the business publishing world. A former managing editor of Seattle Business, iSixSigma, Claims and Waste Age magazines, he has covered topics that include newspaper publishing, entrepreneurism, green businesses, insurance, environmental protection and garbage hauling (yes, really). He also contributes to the Career Center Blog for The Seattle Times and edits a photography magazine called PhotoMedia. When not working, he likes to hide out in Seattle movie theaters and attend film festivals—even on sunny days.