The Yokohama International Passenger Terminal was the product of inventive architectural methodology and socially conscious thinking. Designed by Foreign Office Architects (FOA) in 1995, the futuristic terminal represented an emergent typology of transportation infrastructure. Its radical, hyper-technological design explored new frontiers of architectural form and simultaneously provoked a powerful discourse on the social responsibility of large-scale projects to enrich shared urban spaces.
The architects have named the project the "no-return pier", with the ambition to structure of the pier as a fluid, uninterrupted and multi-directional space, rather than a gateway of fixed orientation. A series of interlocking circulation loops allow the architects to subvert the traditional linear and branching characteristic of the building. Rather than developing the building as an object, the project is produced as an extension of the urban ground, constructed as a systematic transformation of the lines of the circulation diagram into a folded and bifurcated surface. These folds produce covered surfaces where the different parts of the program can be hosted.
The relation between the skin and the areas established by the structural folds of the surface is one of the most important arguments of the project in that the folded ground distributes the loads through the surfaces themselves, moving them diagonally to the ground. This structure is also especially adequate in coping with the lateral forces generated by seismic movements that affect the Japanese topography. The articulation of the circulation system with the constructive system through this folded organisation produced two distinct spatial qualities; the continuity of the exterior and the interior spaces and the continuity between the different levels of the building.
The building is organized in three vertical levels. Atop a first-floor parking garage, a spacious middle floor contains the terminal's administrative and operational areas, including ticketing, customs, immigration, restaurants, shopping, and waiting areas. The steel beams that span the ceiling add a weighty feeling to the space that contrasts sharply with the feel of the observation deck, which has the sensation of being made of a light, flexible, and easily malleable plane. Connecting the three levels are a series of gently sloping ramps, which the architects decided were more effective than stairs at maintaining a continuous and multi-dimensional flow of circulation.
There was used a very reduced palette of materials and details in order to explore the continuity produced by the topography. Single finishes extend on the upper or lower side of the topography regardless of exterior or interior condition. All secondary system that are applied to the steel topography, mainly wood-deck flooring system, glazing system and fencing/handrail system use a single detail along the length of the building and only vary to explore the geometrical variation across spaces. The ambition was to construct continuous but differentiated spaces along the length of the pier.