Thursday, June 30, 2011

Reason Why I am an Architect

Today (or more accurately yesterday) I travelled to Yokohama to see the architectural wonder, the Yokohama International Ferry Terminal. Designed by FOA is has caused a large stir in the architectural community and has been the focus of many books. Most of these books equate the terminals design to the mark the transition into Landscape Urbanism, a sort of sandwiched/compressed topography of programming space. Whatever way you want to see the terminal, its still a fantastic piece of architecture.

Waking up early I got ready to commute to Yokohama. Luckily where I live I have access to an commuter express train and made it too the ferry terminal's nearest station in under 30mins. Approaching the ferry terminal I was overjoyed. I studied this building extensively for my thesis and now I was finally able to step foot on it. 

It was blazingly hot this day, but there was a strong ocean breeze that helped to keep things cool. I bathed in sunblock before I got to the terminal, so fingers were crossed that I would not have another baking incident. I roamed all over the terminal taking pictures and enjoying the many unique spaces and conditions that were created by the surface variations. Very few people were at the terminal, so it made for some good photographs. I was a little disappointed however to realize for such a hot climate FOA only designed a few awnings to protect people from the sun.

After traversing the length of the terminal I made my way down into the inner folds of the terminal's landscape. I first entered the exhibition space,but it was in use by a group so I could only take some pictures at the entrance. Moving along the edges of the terminal I entered into the main terminal space. A grand space with its distinct folded ceiling. I was overjoyed at this point, I always wanted to see and interact in this space.

Something started to dawn on me though, as well as all the details were done in the terminal by FOA, it did little to allow for adaptation. While FOA stated in their theories about the terminal that it could modify itself to changing requirements, the newer interventions were done with little grace. While the terminal did not have one 90 degree surface, the juxtaposed walls of the kiosks and shop stalls broke up the natural flow of the terminals design. It was an unfortunate condition. Advertisements and other billboards littered the space and broke up the almost church like qualities of the space. I do not know if this is a failure of FOA to integrate these ideas or was the terminals owner's failure to have properly integrated features (I tend to lean on the latter as I could think of a few alternatives that would have retained the integrity of the stations design). 

After shooting more than 100 photos of the terminal I finally pried myself away from the building to continue on with my days plan. One aspect of the plan was skipped due to the hot weather. I wanted to walk over to a nearby pier to take a look at a refurbish brick factory building (similar to Toronto's Distillery District), but the 37C weather and lack of sun protection on the pier forced me to change my mind.

Continuing on I headed over to the famed Yokohama's Chinatown, and it was a big let down. If you are from Toronto you understand Chinatown (or Chinatowns) as places where actual Chinese frequent for all their entertainment and goods. The Chinatown in Yokohama was nothing more than a tourist trap filled with repeated restaurants and novelty stores. Thinking as though this Chinatown was like Toronto's I wanted to have dim sum for brunch, but not a single restaurant sold purely dim sum... big let down. Most of the Chinese food was a sort of mainland mix, but mostly focused on Shanghai cuisine... which is alright, but lacked the seafood's of Cantonese styles and spicy foods of Sichuan. Oh well, deciding that lunch was not a good idea here I decided that I will do lunch at the Ramen Museum... I was not disappointed.

The Ramen Museum as the name states is a museum for the famed Chinese noodle adaptation, Ramen. Situated in the most bineign area (got lost trying to find it in a no name street), the Ramen Museum is the sort of place you'd walk by everyday and not care to know whats inside. But what's inside is amazing.

Once getting your ticket and passing through a Metro style gate you are presented with..... the boring gift shop... I was not impressed, nothing there won me over with the faux pristine noodle station with novelties piled on it. But then you find a stair case that takes you below.... you start to notice that the place seems dirty, and maybe a little old...

 and you go deeper... older and dirtier... 

and then you enter the main space.

You are transported back to a 1930/40's Tokyo! The city as been compressed into a courtyard and you are witnessed to an almost Back to the Future sort of situation. The faux interior is augmented by the real Ramen shops which feature a different ramen recipe from across the country of Japan. 

Starving I beelined for the nearest and least busy noodle shop. Not sure of what the menu presented me I ordered from the ticket machine of what seemed to be the most popular dish at that shop... and of course a pint of beer. The miso ramen was delicious!!! smooth and delicious.... and the pork slices were heart stoppingly delicious... I gorged on the soup and beer and was done in no time.... I was stuffed... really stuffed... I wanted to try more of the ramens, but I could barely move... 

I decided that I needed to walk around and burn off some of that food. The museum turned out to be a real gem of a place and reminded me of how museums used to be fun as a kid. The whole place was different alleyways of real and faux shops. Some were ode to shops of days past and others were functioning period bars. The place is so popular that everyday salarymen from the area come there for lunch and dinner to enjoy the space. 

After burning off some of the ramen I waited in line at what seemed to be the most popular Ramen shop... and I was definitely not disappointed with!!! The ramen soup base is traditionally made with miso and dashi (fermented soy bean and Japanese fish/kelp stock), but this ramen soup base had a twist. The original ramen soup base was thickened with bonito (smoked fish flakes) and ground dried fish... it was amazing... a dish I will never forget... it will give me nightmares now... I am going to try to replicated this dish and I know I will not succeed. It was a heavenly delicious...!

When I fished that dish I was stuffed... sick almost... I thought I was ordering the sample dish but mistakenly ordered the full size dish... oh well... I had two amazing ramen dishes and it gives me a reason to come back to the museum to try more! 

I travelled home with a full gut of food and a smile. I crashed in my bed and slept soundly after....

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