Mind & Matter


Architecture and the World of Myth

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Nebuta House by Molo Design. Photo by Iwan Baan.


Known mainly for their sophisticated furniture and light constructions made of paper honeycomb materials, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada–based Molo Design is also an accomplished architecture practice. Principals Stephanie Forsythe and Todd MacAllen recently celebrated the opening of Nebuta House, a culture center and museum they designed in Aomori, Japan.

Situated along the Amori waterfront, Nebuta House commemorates the Nebuta Festival, which honors Japanese folk tales involving mythical creatures, heroes, and demons in the form of large illuminated lanterns. The 6,700 m2 building—containing exhibition halls, multipurpose rooms, a theater, restaurant, and gift shop—is enclosed in a diaphanous shroud compposed of over 820 vertical steel ribbons, which are arrayed at various angles and geometries based on programmatic needs for views, entry, and shade.

The clever use of red powdercoated ribbons recalls traditional Japanese lacquerware and the skeletal structure of paper lanterns without relying on literal historical motifs. The enclosure also makes a spatial reference to the Japanese traditional architectural perimeter zone called the engawa, which the architects claim acts “as a threshold between the contemporary world of the city and the world of myth.” With its simple yet provocative design, the Nebuta House projects a compelling modern vision for this emerging creative cultural hub in northern Japan.




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About the Blogger

Blaine Brownell

thumbnail image Minnesota-based architect and author Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a self-defined materials researcher and sustainable building adviser. His "Product of the Week" emails and three volumes of Transmaterial (2006, 2008, 2010) provide designers with a steady flow of inspiration—a 21st-century Grammar of Ornament. Blaine has practiced architecture in Japan and the U.S. and has been published in more than 40 design, business, and science publications. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship for 2006–07, he researched contemporary Japanese material innovations at the Tokyo University of Science. He currently teaches architecture and co-directs the M.S. in Sustainable Design program at the University of Minnesota. His book Matter in the Floating World was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.