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.

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