The OIST Main Campus location for the Institute in Onna-son was decided in April 2003 for its subtropical forest-covered hillsides and commanding views of the western coast of the island. This idyllic location offers the ideal research environment for a world-class graduate university. From the main guiding concept of the project through the future plans for campus development, preserving the environment has remained a top priority of campus development.
An international team of architects comprising Kornberg Associates from the US, Nikken Sekkei, Japan’s largest design firm, and Kuniken from Okinawa was selected to plan and design the campus. The overall master plan placed the residential campus village and parking building on the lower part of the site adjacent to a small existing lake, with laboratories and central facilities higher up the site. The two areas are connected by a curving pedestrian tunnel, called the OIST Tunnel Gallery, and elevators rising through a vertical light shaft.
The site selected is steep and densely wooded, carved into a series of narrow ridges and deep ravines made by the heavy rainfall of the subtropical climate. The environmental impact assessment showed that the valleys and small streams they shelter constitute a valuable ecosystem with rare flora and fauna which should be preserved at all cost. Construction could therefore only take place on the ridges.
This condition, and the 30m vertical difference between the entrance to the site and the only practical location for the main campus higher up the hillside, provided a challenge to the architects. However, it also offered the opportunity to develop a university campus of unusual character which would fit naturally into the landform of the site.