That's the word that Japanese artist Genpei Akasegawa has assigned to doors leading nowhere and driveways blocked by fences.

In an architectural jungle as large as a city there are bound to be a few... mistakes.

We're talking about doors hovering on the exterior second floor of a building without staircases. If you were to use it, you'd sprain both ankles falling to the ground. Or a big brick pedestal for a statue that never got put up. Or a flight of stairs leading into a blank wall. Or how about this non-functional bicycle path in Leeds:

Flickr user phill.d, via creative commons

In this day and age, we might refer to these glitches in the city matrix as Urban FAILS. But Japanese artist Genpei Akasegawa has been thinking about such objects for more than 30 years, and has already given them a name. They're called "Thomassons," and you can find a delightful collection of them in Akasegawa's 1985 book, Hyperart: Thomasson, recently translated into English.

A Thomasson is any kind of "useless and defunct object attached to someone's property and aesthetically maintained," according to Akasegawa's definition. A publisher's blurb states that this includes the "doorknob in a wall without a door, that driveway leading into an unbroken fence, that strange concrete... thing sprouting out of your sidewalk with no discernible purpose." Learn more about what makes a Thomasson in the video below, which includes quixotic footage of real-life examples like a stairway ending in a window.

The artist, who's birth name is Katsuhiko Akasegawa, picked the word in tribute to Gary Thomasson, an American baseball player who whiffed on so many balls during his 1980s stint with the Yomiuri Giants that the Japanese media took to calling him the "Electric Fan" or "Giant Human Fan." Akasegawa was wowed by the innate conundrum of Gary Thomasson, who (according to the video) "had a fully formed body and yet served no purpose to the world." Interestingly enough, the term has been repurposed by author William Gibson in the sci-fi tome Virtual Light to denote a "useless and inexplicable monument."

Once you know about Thomassons, it's impossible not to think about them while strolling down the block. An observant spotter can catch one or two on the daily commute to work. Even Etsy is on the Thomasson trail, with one artist knitting a colorful cozy for a weird metal doohickey protruding from the pavement. Anybody who has seen a Thomasson in his or her city is more than welcome to mention them in the comments section.

If you haven't heard of Akasegawa, it's worth a couple minutes to catch up on his biography. Here's the brief version posted on Amazon:

He emerged on the Japanese art scene around 1960, starting in the radical "Anti-Art" movement and becoming a member of the seminal artist collectives Neo Dada and Hi Red Center. The epic piece Model 1,000-Yen Note Incident (1963-1974), which involved a real-life police investigation and trial, cemented his place as an inspired conceptualist. His irreverent humor and cunning observation of everyday life made him popular as a writer, peaking with his 1998 book Rõjinryoku, in which he put forth a hilariously positive take on the declining capabilities of the elderly.

The artist actually was convicted of currency fraud for his homemade yen, in a case that went all the way to Japan's Supreme Court.

H/T on the video to io9

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Design

    How I. M. Pei Shaped the Modern City

    The architect, who died yesterday at the age of 102, designed iconic modern buildings on prominent sites around the world. Here are some that delight and confound CityLab.

  2. Car with Uber spray painted on it.
    Transportation

    The Dangerous Standoff Between Uber and Buenos Aires

    While Uber and Argentine officials argue over whether the company is an app or a transportation company, drivers suffer fines, violence, and instability.

  3. Four scooters that say "Available on Uber."
    Perspective

    The California Legislature Is Getting Played by Micromobility Companies

    If the California legislature passes AB 1112, cities can’t require companies like Bird, Lime, and Jump to limit numbers, meet equity goals, or fully share data.

  4. Alicia Glen speaks into a microphone at a podium inside a tent.
    Equity

    'You Can't Just Show Up': Alicia Glen on Amazon's Queens Defeat

    In an interview, the former deputy mayor under Bill de Blasio says diversity is the key to New York’s growth: “Even with all of our warts, we’re the best.”

  5. Tourists walk along the High Line in Manhattan, New York City
    Life

    The Beauty Premium: How Urban Beauty Affects Cities’ Economic Growth

    A study finds that the more beautiful a city is, the more successful it is at attracting jobs and new residents, including highly educated and affluent ones.