KOMATSU – The city of Komatsu has been a Japanese industrial and manufacturing hub since it was founded in 1940. It even lent its name to the second largest manufacturer of construction and mining equipment in the world, whose former factory location served as the site for a recent design competition. The prompt requested a science museum and communication center that would archive the city’s manufacturing heritage and spark local interest in the sciences.
The winning entry by Urban Architecture Office founder Mari Ito seems to function by merging two lines of thinking in contemporary architecture. The first conceives of the science museum as a platform for the latest in sustainable technologies. Renzo Piano’s design for the California Academy of Sciences (Mark #12, p. 29) is a prime example. The second is a broader notion of building as landform. The undulating floors and ceilings of SANAA’s Rolex Learning Centre (Mark #26, p. 94–105) come to mind. Ito’s design takes a green roof rich with sustainable technologies and makes it an inhabitable extension of the landscape. The architect says, though, that no particular building served as a precedent study for Science Hills. Rather, the building’s form arose naturally from a discussion of Komatsu’s manufacturing spirit and a desire for visitors to ‘experience what’s unusual’.
At night – weather permitting – the building puts on a show. Hundreds of LED lights fitted with individual wind sensors visualise current conditions by flashing on and off, sending waves of light over the green roof. The display eerily evokes a school of bioluminescent, deep-ocean anglers, glowing in pitch-black water to attract attention. In Komatsu the glowing lights certainly catch eyes, but with motives not so sinister.