Greg Allen posted about the concept of 'tomason' a while ago, inspired by the fabulous Tokyo-based architectural practice Atelier Bow Wow and their relentless documentation of the the city and its quotidian architectural foibles, in books like Made in Tokyo and Pet Architecture. He described the thomason (超芸術トマソン) thus:
"Made in Toyko was about ridiculous hybrids: a department store with a driving school on the roof; a cement factory integrated with the workers' dorms. They called these ridiculous, pragmatic spatial phenomena dame [dah-may] architecture, using the Japanese term for 'no good'. Such ad hoc, aggressively undesigned accidents stick in my mind as I read about Tomason [also spelled Thomason and Thomasson in English]. If dame architecture is the awkward result of relentless functionality, Tomason are the useless, abandoned leftovers. Stairs to nowhere are a favorite. Bricked up windows are a close second. Tomason are the flashings and detritus of the incessant churn of building, destruction, and redevelopment that characterizes the Japanese city. No clean slates here, no way …"
"The term comes from the art & architecture collective formed in 1986 known as Rojo Kansatsu [Roadside Observation], which counted the author/artist Akasegawa Genpei as a founding member. Rojo's inspiration was Gary Thomasson, who was given the biggest contract ever in Japanese baseball in 1981-2, only it turned out he couldn't hit; then he blew out his knee. He was a giant, useless lump on the bench." [greg.org, my emphasis]
The photos you see here are of a tomason I'm particularly fond of, found down the road from work in Sydney. It's a sequence of steps to nowhere, with the entrance and exit long bricked-up. There's no way in, there's no way out. It just sits there embedded in the sandstone. The base is thoroughly bricked-up, ensuring no-one can climb into the section in the middle, which presumably would've taken too much brick to warrant fully enclosing.
As a tomason, it's not exactly a remant of Tokyo-pace redevelopment; more some long lost relic of an early wave of urban development that had paused a long time ago.
It's on Hickson Road, as part of the extraordinary sandstone wall which curves right round the contours of the harbour here, part of the area now known as Barangaroo (more photos here), all the way to the Harbour Bridge. The wall was once host to a series of sky-bridges, comprising a form of connective tissue between the wharves of the harbour and Millers Point and the rest of The Rocks up on the hill. The tomason is tucked in next to the two remaining arched bridges at this point.
Browing some New South Wales state archives, I came across a couple of relevant images: the first showing the construction of the major sandstone wall along what would become Hickson Road (I think) and the second showing the construction of the adjacent bridge, taken in 1911.
Note the steps aren't visible in this photograph. Interestingly, note that also the houses on the street above the wall (High Street, appropriately enough) remain fairly unchanged, at least structurally, though their backdrop is rather different now. Big fan of these houses; more to follow.
Who knows if the steps were bricked up as part of the bridge construction, or afterwards. Either way, I declare them Sydney tomason. As the Barangaroo development unfolds, I'm quite keen to plant trees or a green wall in it, or use it as temporary exhibition space, bounded as it now is on all sides.
On Tomason, Or the flipside of dame architecture [greg.org]
Thomason group on Flickr
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