Monday, June 19, 2000

Toyama Observatory Tower

Toyama Observatory Tower in Kosugi, Toyama, Japan by Shoei Yoh, 1992

Before the New York intellectual duo Diller + Scofidio proposed a habitable cloud hovering above a Swiss lake for Expo 2000, Shoei Yoh built the Toyama Tower in Kosugi for Prospecta 1992 in Kosugi, Toyama, Japan; an "open-frame cube" utilizing fog effects to create the sensation of walking in the clouds. The 32m high structure accomplishes one of the architect's goals: for visitors to contemplate the beauty of nearby mountains, a popular pastime in Japan.

Unlike Diller + Scofidio's project, where the building's structure disappears behind the mist created by miles of piping, Yoh's structure is overt. The Toyama Tower is definitely an object in the landscape. Each approach can be seen as a reflection of each culture. Diller + Scofidio's embrace of technology and its use in society leads to a design which blurs the distinction between man and nature, real and virtual. Shoei Yoh's design reflects his home country's thinking about nature in relation to man: distinct yet respectful.

The inclusion of a light/music/fog show is equally intriguing. With enclosed platforms providing views out to the mountains nearby, an interior series of platforms focus to the middle of the cube. Here nature is artificially recreated in a partially open, man-made setting. The addition of lights and music raises the effect to spectacle, a form of entertainment. Nothing is free from becoming a form of entertainment; nature will do just as well as a fantasy computer game.

Aside from any arguments that can be made for or against this approach to entertainment, the originality and effectiveness of the design, especially in execution, is impressive. To see photographs looking down through the center of the cubes void and only seeing clouds, with maybe the occasional thin patch revealing the landscape, reinforces the feeling of floating the photographer must have experienced (and the architect intended). In two years we will see if Diller + Scofidio's ideas translate seamlessly enough to elicit sensations equal to or greater than Yoh's temporary tower.

Monday, June 12, 2000

Velodrome & Pool

Velodrome & Pool in Berlin, Germany by Dominique Perrault, 1999

Dominique Perrault's name became internationally known after he designed Francois Miterrand's last grand projet, the National Library in Paris, France. In that design he explored the relationship between building, landscape, and the city, inserting a submerged courtyard between the four "L"-shaped towers of the library. Here the landscape is brought inside the realm of the building, while his design for an Olympic velodrome and pool in Berlin, Germany, brings the buildings inside the realm of the landscape.

Deriving their footprints from their athletic functions, the pool and velodrome are a square and circle, respectively, located symmetrically in a large park with grass, trees, and paths. Instead of merely placing the buildings on the site, though, Perrault submerged the interior functions into the earth (the opposite of the Library which raises the buildings on a grand plinth), lessening the large structures' impact on the park. In effect the roofs act as an extension of the ground plane, their reflective surfaces visible by pedestrians.

Unfortunately this visual extension of the ground plane indicates a missed opportunity on the part of the architect, for it is merely perceived. Making the roof accessible to pedestrians would have subverted the two buildings even further, realizing what Perrault calls "the absence of architecture" he tried to achieve. Instead sloping surface link the park to the pool and velodrome entrances, creating spaces of shelter and a zone between outside and inside.

The recent abundance of projects and built work addressing the relationship between architecture and landscape (Zaha Hadid and Herzog & DeMeuron, among others) indicates an acceptance of both an ecological approach to architecture and a subversion of the building as an object. Perrault's intelligent solution in Berlin, much different from both Hadid's and H&D's designs, will hopefully extend this acceptance and influence city governments to promote sensitive urban interventions.