Lynch Architects

'Tezuka' in: The Architects' Journal by Patrick Lynch

15 May 2008

Every now and again a really good project is published that seems to stop you in your tracks and go ‘Wow, I wish I’d done that!’ The last time this happened to me was a couple of years ago when Tezuka architects published their snow-bound Matsunoyama Natural Science Museum. The plan snakes making the wide corridor into a series of semi-autonomous ‘rooms’ focussed through huge Perspex windows on the landscape beyond. This snake uncoils and then rises like a python into an extremely tall and slender tower of Corten steel, chosen to enable the skin to expand and contract in the massive temperature swings of the Matsunoyama mountains. In the winter months snow settles 5 metres deep and only the tower remains visible on the horizon, gesturing to the lost like a secular belfry or huge periscope. The interiors glow with cold blue light in winter, as the piled up snow acts as insulated net-curtains, densifying the spaces and extending them in your imagination into icy grottos.

Not much happens in the building except the usual rituals associated with tourism, and it is part of the tradition of belvederes and panoramas as much as the monastic typology alluded to before. You go there to experience the world in an intense manner, to experience the intensity of nature and the fragility of your human body in this vaguely threatening firmament of semi-wilderness. This works best in a highly artificial or mannerist engagement with the natural world, and marks of distant architectural tropes – both literally and historically distant – have the power of increasing our sense of being disengaged from but part of the natural world. In Baroque villas this sense of dislocation was addressed as a problem that architecture could correct through the perspective of variously ambiguous fragments. These varied from fragments of buildings lurking in the overgrowth (Serlio’s staircase stages); fragments of earlier, presumed ruined buildings incorporated into new facades (Michelangelo’s correction of Sangallo’s dull facades at Farnese); and what Hans Sedlmayr called ‘the zone of ambiguity of a Baroque column’ uncoiling in carved acanthus leaves, metamorphosing into stucco on a ceiling, then further mutating in painted frescos to become a literal and actual interstitial realm as the scene unfolds in perspective. These hidden balconies and proscenium set up delicious contrasts between being in nature and being in architecture, between what you saw and what your eye was led to believe in. On the cusp of disorientation and immersion you hover suspended between both. Villas exist of course on the edge of a wilderness, not quite in it, part of an extended urban economy that in some ways dominates the local one and in others supports it.

Verticality is important in these in-between thresholds because without it you’re simply on the edge of things, rather than part of something more profoundly troubling. I imagine ascending Tezuka architects’ tower to be confronted with endless white, white in daylight and white at night. The purpose of the architecture here, rather than its function - which is anyway quite mundane - is to craft a confrontation with the world. And a science museum that is neither ‘about’ science nor technology nor the clever ways in which the architecture imitates these is almost as remarkable as a thirty metre tall rusty telescope bleeding over the snow.