Ugakei Circles is a sustainable tourism project located on the fringe of one of Japans most populated areas. The project marks a new shift towards low impact regenerative tourism, that focuses on developing regions sustainably.


Partner-in-charge: Flemming Rafn Thomsen
Sofie Askholm, Julia Östlund, Martin Trier Risom, Kristina Line og Sabina Brunstein.
Client: Nordisk and Inabe
Place: Inabe, Japan
Type: Invited competition
Role: Main consultant, architect; masterplan and buildings
Team: Third Nature, Structured Environment and Henrik Innovation
Period: Ongoing, opening spring 2021

The COVID-19 crisis leads to new ideas for tourism
 As cities were in lock-down the mixed Danish and Japanese design team worked intensely on a sustainable tourism project located on the fringe on one of Japans most populated areas. Inabe is a region of the medium-sized Japanese city of the same name, located between the big cities of Osaka, Kyoto and Nagoya, right in the middle of Japan’s main island, the elongated Honshu Island. On the outskirts of the region lies the natural area of Ugakei, where the park is to be established.

The project marks a new shift towards low impact regenerative tourism, that focuses on developing regions sustainably.The new adventure park consists of three zones: an overnight section with cabins and platters for glamping tents, an area along the estuary where you can pitch your own tent and a learning area in nature where the activities are at the center. In the middle of the plan, a larger center building is built. The building will house the reception, shop and workshops and be a welcoming space for new guests.

A circular DNA
The site is a former camping ground at the foot of the mountains of Inabe. The site will be completely cleaned for old buildings and be rebuilt in the most sustainable way, using only renewable materials and repurposed building waste. The project is set to open in spring 2021.
“We believe the future is about circularity. Our proposal is composed by a family of circles that define a series of sustainable communities. The master plan and buildings embody a unique environment and a regenerative ‘hygge’ experience in nature.

It is our hope that our project will become the base camp for a new type of regional nature-based development that promote sustainable awareness and brings the gift of nature to many urban dwellers.”, says Flemming Rafn Thomsen, lead architect and Co-Founder of Third Nature.

Early civilizations in Denmark and Japan were founded in circular gatherings and were often centered around the appreciation of natural resources, fire, water and food. The circle is also a universal shape that symbolizes equality, openness and democracy. It has therefore become the core of the design-DNA itself that the group behind the project hopes to establish at the Ugakei Site in Inabe.

Regerative tourism
The mountain forest already has several trekking and hiking routes, with rich biodiversity and spectacular scenery. New routes will over time be developed and will provide a revitalization of the area and promote low impact recreation based on the natural resources of the region.
If societies are to enter the future in a truly sustainable way, the team believe we must rethink tourism and change the recreational industry. The projects will give the visitors the ability to learn new sustainable skills and evolve as individuals and as communities.

The project in short
The project comprises a center building, cabins, event spaces, tent decks and landscape bridges, as well as service facilities and other site upgrades. There is also a large public camping area on a scenic river plateau featuring a creek from the mountain as well as several waterfalls. All new elements are based on a circular design, and they are designed to facilitate community, as well as stimulate out-door activity.

The architects have designed for optimal micro-climate conditions, like wind and sun, in order to enhance the seasonal use. The center building is revolved around a central courtyard that protects from the wind in the early and late season, and features an optimized roof profile, that catches the low sun rays in the winter season, and provides shade in the hot Japan summer semester.

About author

We are a Copenhagen based office, consisting of architects, landscape architects and constructing architects. We have since 2012 developed groundbreaking climate adaptation projects, award winning sustainable urban masterplans and hybrid building typologies that solve more than just one thing. In every project we try to show and encourage the world with new positivistic approaches and ideas to deal with future urban challenges.

Primary contact
Hulda Hallgrímsdóttir

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