The Treehouses and Tearooms of Terunobu Fujimori

A new book looks at skyward designs of Japanese architect Terunobu Fujimori.

WORDS Rob Goyanes
November 2019
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Ku-an (Right-Angle Room) in Kyoto. / Photography by Akihisa Masuda

In the Japanese Alps, there’s a tearoom perched atop two trees. It’s not the handiwork of savvy local kids, but of whimsical architect Terunobu Fujimori, who aptly named the structure Takasugi-an (A Tea House Built Too High). To reach the tiny space you need two ladders. Inside, this tearoom breaks some rules of Japanese tradition with a large window and no tokonoma, the little alcove where the tea master exhibits ancient paintings. “Fujimori clarifies that the tearoom is no longer subordinated to rigid norms fixed five centuries ago,” says historian J.K. Mauro Pierconti. “The tearoom is a personal and spiritual space.”

In Pierconti’s new book, Treehouses, Towers, and Tea Rooms: The Architecture of Terunobu Fujimori, he examines Fujimori’s unique, often subversive designs. An architecture scholar for most of his career, Fujimori didn’t start designing until age 45. Since then his fanciful projects have combined Western influences (such as Le Corbusier, a founder of modernism) and age-old Japanese methods. For instance, to build the Jinchokan Moriya Historical Museum in Nagano, Fujimori had craftsmen make wood planks by cleaving them with metal tools, rather than using a saw.

Fujimori’s cozier, more skyward designs are fan favorites—structures like Chashitsu Tetsu in Hokuto, another high-up tearoom with a triangular blue roof that evokes a gnome in a blue hat. Though his tearooms are small, the architect’s influence is large. As Pierconti remarks, “Fujimori is someone that forces us to rethink what it means to be an architect, and what it means to build.”

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