Linda Poon is an assistant editor at CityLab covering science and urban technology, including smart cities and climate change. She previously covered global health and development for NPR’s Goats and Soda blog.
Part warehouse, part gallery, Archi-Depot is Tokyo’s first museum dedicated to storing and exhibiting tiny building mockups.
After an architectural design leaves the drawing board and before it becomes a life-size structure, it exists as a scale model. And while architectural masterpieces are best marveled at full scale, the level of detail in their smaller mockups can be spectacular in its own right—not just for industry people, but for the public, as well.
Yet firms don’t always preserve these fragile architectural models once the actual building is constructed, particularly in Tokyo, where space is limited. This concerned the team behind Archi-Depot. Located inside a warehouse in Tokyo, Archi-Depot touts itself as Japan’s first museum to not only store and preserve models by some of Japan’s most influential architects, but also put them on display for students, experts, and enthusiasts alike. Operated by a storage company called Warehouse Terrada, which offer storage services,the museum opened its doors in June.
The nearly 1,500-square-foot museum features a controlled-storage environment, with the temperature, humidity, and amount of light maintained at levels that won’t make the models fade or collapse. It’s lined with 116 shelves, which architectural firms can rent and use to store their models and other materials. Boxes are stored on the top shelves, according to Dezeen, and the models are placed at eye level for visitors to peruse as they walk up and down the aisles. Near each model are QR codes that museum-goers can scan with their phones to get access to materials like photos and blueprints of the buildings.
So far, the museum holds models from contemporary Japanese architects including Kengo Kuma, Manabu Chiba, and Shigeru Ban, as well as works by international names. Archi-Depot isn’t the first to feature architectural models—architect Richard Meier in New Jersey and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York have also hosted their own scale-model shows. But this is about more than just preserving and showing off Japan-made models. The initiative is also an effort in “archiving Japanese architecture,” as the organizers write in a press release.
Japan has snagged the coveted Pritzker Architecture Prize two years in a row: Toyo Ito won in 2013 and Shigeru Ban in 2014. And with the anticipation of the 2020 Olympic Games in Japan mounting, Japanese architecture has been enjoying more of the global spotlight in recent years. In an age filled with celebrity architecture and grandiose projects, designs coming out of Japan often stand out for their simplicity and innovation.
In 2015, for example, Japan scrapped an Olympic stadium design by architect Zaha Hadid after Ito and other Japanese architects criticized it for being overly flashy. Instead native architect Kengo Kuma—who embraces timber construction—was tapped to design a stadium that Kuma told Architect Magazine would “reintroduce a ‘green connection’ in the center of Tokyo”. And Ban is well-known for using simple cardboard and other recycled materials to build churches that can withstand earthquakes, and to create shelters for disaster relief.