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Tropical Timber Dunes – Passenger Terminal in Yokohama (1995-2002)

The credo that nature is nature and buildings are something else long held true in architecture. Apart from exceptions such as artificial grottoes in landscape gardens or the earth-berms houses of the early environmental movement, little changed until the late 20th century, when buildings shaped to trace thoroughfares or imaginary ley lines in the landscape became not only conceivable but also calculable and buildable. The passenger terminal in Yokohama realised in 2002 by Farshid Moussavi and Alejandro Zaera-Polo is possibly the most outstanding example of this particular style of architecture. It also laid the foundations of the architects’ international career, starting in 1995 when the two, barely in their early thirties, prevailed against a field of over 600 contestants in Japan’s hitherto largest competition. Later they temporarily relocated their office to Yokohama to oversee construction of the terminal.
The building is an arrival and departure point for ship passengers, but the gently rolling elevations of its ipé-clad roofscape also make it a viewing platform and plaza for the urban population. All other elements seamlessly take their place in the hardwood roofscape: entrances to the terminal disappear in the folds of the artificial terrain, minimalistic and adventurously inclined lamps and benches furnish the wooden deck and the glass façade is folded in a way that does away with the need for columns. The floor plans of the two storeys – cars are parked below, passenger handling takes place above – are arranged in linear manner and for the most part are axisymmetrical. A pleated metal ceiling spanning the column-free arrival and waiting hall on the upper floor conceals steel frameworks leaned into each other to also form a folded plate structure in load-bearing terms. 
Today Foreign Office Architects no longer exists. In late 2009 the two partners announced they were parting ways and today have offices of their own – Moussavi in London and Zaera-Polo in Madrid.

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