Yokohama Ferry Terminal
Consequently the former city center suffered from the shift of population, investment, and shopping activities toward the new urban waterfront development. However, Chinatown remained the main attraction in the old city, close to the popular Yamashita Park and the new international terminal.
FOA created a building that fits smoothly into this context, surrounded by a skyline that speaks of entertainment and economic power. The world's biggest Ferris wheel and Japan's highest skyscraper, the Landmark Tower, welcome travelers arriving at the terminal deck.
A Shapely Terminal
The 230- by 1400-foot (70- by 430-meter) terminal is positioned orthogonal to the Yokohama waterfront and Yamashita Park. Yet the architects wanted to depart from the norm of a linear pier.
Zaera-Polo explains: "We wanted to make a pier where you can walk in on a certain path and walk out on a different path. We developed this looped diagram, in which we were chaining all the parts of the program. Then we assigned to every line of the diagram a surface. We were interested in playing with the ground."
The upper level is, therefore, a park-like roof for strolling and enjoying the scenery. The main level, below, houses arrival and departure facilities with meeting and waiting areas, restaurants, and shops. One level underground serves as a parking and machinery space. The building has a maximum height of 50 feet (15 meters).
Just as the terminal is an interface between the open sea and the dense Tokyo-Yokohama metropolis (with up to 13,000 people per square mile, or 5000 per square kilometer), it is also a transition space between the local people and arriving strangers. For locals, its main function is as a park; for arrivals it is the first connection to the mainland.
Travelers are welcomed on the passenger terminal deck with customs, immigration, and quarantine facilities. They are guided through the wide and open but low hall when walking down the timber-planked gangway.
Into the Belly of the Beast
Entering the terminal feels like being swallowed by some huge prehistoric creature with a flat yet strong and heavy skeleton. The ceiling is made of projecting triangles across the grain, contrasting with the length of the building. The column-free space is spanned by main trusses that rest on box girders. The asymmetrical arrangement of the piles of the existing pier was the origin of a slight asymmetry in the building.
Vertical movement is managed with sloping floors and elevators. A total of ten ramps connect the three levels, creating spatial continuity and flow. However, facilities are placed in functional boxes that seem detached from the whole, unlike the organs of the animal.
"The topology is quite simple," says Zaera-Polo. The architects began with two parameters. The first was the great distance between the existing foundation and the edges of the boarding deck, suggesting a cantilever of up to 46 feet (14 meters). The second was the notion that the project was considered an extension of the city floor, a ramped surface of shallow slopes.
"The result," he says, "is that we have very large pieces of steel that are close to each other in a relatively low space. Normally, when you have this kind of scale of a structure, you are covering very tall spaces, as in a cathedral or an airport. So you are distant from feeling the weight of the structure. Here, your body is close to the large parts of the structure."
In contrast to that heavy image, details and fittings are light and support the airy atmosphere of an ocean cruiser. The wood planking, elegant handrails, and constant sea view emphasize the image of a ship. The manufactured components also bear some nautical resemblance. Parts of the steel frame structure and the folding were prefabricated using shipbuilding techniques in Korean shipyards.
A Novel Approach to Design
The fundamental approach of FOA in designing this building was to transform the ground into an active surface. The perception of the ground as an architectural topic led them to treat the ground as a figure, the surface as a space.
The whole project was developed with digital technologies that allowed the architects to visualize and watch changes easily. They prefer designing with CAD instead of with physical models because the digital medium allows them to integrate more information and make changes later in design, thus producing an organization of higher complexity.
Contrary to the concept of architecture as the embodiment of an image, FOA considers architecture as projects without end, that continually incorporate new information.
Zaera-Polo says: "We started with certain principles and later combined and changed them. The changes are never visual or aesthetic; they are always technical or practical. We do not believe in the origin or in the end of a project. We believe in the medium of the process. We are totally opportunistic. The end is determined only by external forces, like deadlines of the contractors or the client."
Mahoko Hoffmann is a German-born and educated architectural intern who works through a scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service in Japan. She has worked in the office of Shigeru Ban Architects and has written for ARCH+ and Design News.
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