Porous Drape

The winner of this year's Steedman Fellowship is Japanese architect Mitsuru Hamada and his project Porous Drape. Awarded by Washington University School of Architecture in honor of James Harrison Steedman, the $30,000 fellowship allows the winner to travel for research and study in foreign countries for nine months. The fellowship competition is every two years, with a jury chair usually being the visiting professor at the school at the time. This year's chair was Inaki Abalos, principal of Abalos & Herreros Architects in Madrid, who asked competitors to "design...an approximately 1,500-square-meter pavilion-observatory that would integrate architecture, technology and the experience of nature."
Hamada's winning design is "a large, ziggurat-like structure on the former site of Edo Castle in what is now central Tokyo." The image above shows how the pavilion is a re-interpretation of the Castle, lost almost 350 years ago.
A hundred scattered, angular openings in the thick walls -- intended to be constructed of packed soil -- allow for tranquil respite within the surrounding park.
The huge open air "room" is reminiscent of Shoei Yoh's Toyama Tower, an observation platform open to the elements, and Aldo Rossi's cemetery in Modena.
I find the monumentality of the proposal refreshing in today's architectural climate with a preference for the slick and glassy. The Monadnock-esque section shows the load-bearing nature of these four walls, tapering towards the top to reduce weight while also giving the exterior its distinctive slant.
According to the program brief, the "location of the pavilion-observatory can be chosen, documented and justified by the participant." In this case, the location and concept of "rebuilding" Edo Castle is perhaps the project's strongest element. The final design is impressive, though it success in "[providing] an architectural structure to develop NEW FORMS of dialogue between humans and non-humans pertinent with culture and contemporary values" is not clear, though Abalos asked for a lot in a short amount of time.
See the WashU article for more images on the winning design and information on the jury and the runners-up.


  1. I hate to ask a stupid question, but what exactly is it "observing"? Just curious. Observing... its own surroundings? Itself? History?

    Really cool, though; looks like the labyrinth in Name of the Rose, a world of self-connecting stairways.

  2. I love this project.
    If ever built, you know that nice form is going to get all fucked up by safety railings.

  3. geoff - I agree that the project's concept in terms of observing is a bit weak. I'm guessing each "hole" allows people to observe the surrounding park and city in relative seclusion, though simultaneously with other people. Likewise, people can probably observe other people by looking to the interior. Actually, that might be kinda cool, moreso than looking at the park.

    jeff - The Steedman's an ideas competition, so unfortunately there's never a realistic prospect of the winning entry getting built. Which of course doesn't mean it'll never happen, but considering how many to-be-built competitions have fizzled (I'm talkin' 'bout CHA and CPS and other Chicago orgs) this would be a long shot. Nevertheless, I could see the railings being punched metal sheets, a la the openings on the overall building. That might be a nice fit.


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