At the end of the Maple Tree Festival the god returns to the sky, leaving behind the tree that carried him through the village. In the past the tree would be recycled as firewood for the winter. Nowadays, with less need for firewood, it tends to be chopped up for no particular purpose. Our objective – when we laid claim to the tree after the 2002 festival – was to reuse it as building material for the following year’s workshop. We wanted to turn it into something solid and permanent:a horizontal gateway to the village, in the form of a viewing platform.
Our investigations began by selecting potential locations for the overlook. After the open presentation a site was chosen alongside the main road, halfway between the shrine and the school building, and at the edge of a steep drop along a 45-degree slope. A safety rail spans between two trees – a persimmon and a tall cedar. To the right is a small strip of cornfield. The teams outlined potential scenarios of how the platform could be used.
1. Local photographers visit regularly and use it as a tripod to shoot entire houses from above.
2. People stop and pick persimmons from the canopies above the platform. Sitting on the bench, they can view the autumn leaves while eating the seasonal fruit.
3. Grandparents sit at the edge of the platform, with their visiting grandchildren sitting in their laps. They share stories of the village and take family photos with the village in the background.
4. Weekend cyclists and motorists from the city stop to stretch their legs, taking off their boots/shoes at the edge of the platform.
Against the complex vertical topography of Koshirakura the level horizontal line of the gateway acquires a particular significance. Appearing as the most distinct (and artificial) landmark in the village, it refers to the notion of the palace as plateau. To begin, we worked with the topography of a maple tree, trying to understand it as a landscape, located against the flat floor surface of the gym. A series of sections were measured and made into jigs that compensated for the gap between the floor and the trunk. The jigs became integrated structures when they were lifted up and flipped over, supported by two ends of the tree as a beam; in this position, they became a series of ‘floor joists’ that illustrated the missing floor surface that now existed above the tree beam.
Two teams: one made a jig for the tree,the other made a jig for the site. Both began by clearing the surface of the tree/land to expose the topography hidden beneath the foliage, top soil or grass. Next they set up the projected planes above and below. The two procedures were similar, but executed at different scales and in different environments (at our workshop in the gym/at the gateway site).
As the construction of the jig gave way to the fabrication of the various elements of the gateway, the two teams split into four to take on separate tasks: 1 Foundation on site, 2 Main structure fabrication at the gym, 3 Flooring, built-in benches, picture frame, 4 Little lookout birdhouse for the corner of the platform.