A Few Centimeters of Asphalt

Situated several hours north of Tokyo, the region of Echigo-Tsumari has always been a landscape primarily characterized by agriculture. Yet with the accelerating modernization of post-war Japan, the role of agriculture has steadily diminished, causing abandonment of vast swaths of land and the critical depopulation of many local communities. To counter this development, six municipalities of this region launched the "Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial" in 2000. It aimed to introduce projects of art and architecture as cultural landmarks in the landscape in order to generate a new ‘tourism’ that granted the region fresh visibility and public attention. Artists and architects were asked to produce prototypes for a new kind of site-seeing in the landscape. The project by R&Sie(n) Architects adressed this task in an ambiguous manner by producing not a sight as such, but a stop: a parking lot. Underneath the project’s folded surfaces, there is some usable space. However it is not enclosed, and so it is not possible to use it in a conventional way – in particular due to the region’s extreme winter season where up to five meters of snow can submerge the architecture almost entirely. But even in the hot and sultry summer season, the project has a dubious presence. Normally you would expect a tourist attraction to be served by a parking space. Here you have a parking space, but no tourist attraction. You arrive by car and are greeted by nothingness. You have to define what the attraction could be: Is it is the landscape, despite all its uneventfulness? Or the parking spot itself where the inclined ground forces the driver to manage his or her own risk (of flipping over)? Or is it maybe just the very experience of coming to this spot in the first place – that journey with no cause other than to loose one’s self in a dérive through the landscape?

extract from: Ilka&Andreas Ruby, ‘Reprogramming architecture’, Volume Magazine #2, p. 11.

Architecture is Too Important to Leave to the Architects. A conversation with Giancarlo De Carlo