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Building favourites

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You go through the architectural canon, the Farnsworth House, Case Study House, Johnson at New Canaan and they're all perfect buildings, but they're not the sort of commission you get in a small practice where your budget is almost zero and you're relying on your wit and your intuition to make something out of nothing. And that's what this bicycle shed is about. It's by Osaka architect Shuhei Endo beside the railway line at Sakei, in the Sukui prefecture. And no, it's not because of that Pevsner adage about bicycle sheds not being architecture.

And just because it's corrugated steel, it doesn't mean it's Glen Murcutt, because all Murcutt's corrugated iron is properly framed. This isn't. It's a collection of corrugated-iron arches and semi-arches and arches with wavy and reverse-curved sections. And it's all made from sections of corrugated steel bolted together in the usual way and set in continuous gravel beds on either side. It would be nice to think that these were made from just a few standard sections, but some of them were probably specials. And then you notice that some of the arches don't reach the other side and that it looks impossible, one edge hanging up there. You look a bit harder and it turns out that there are big tubes hanging under the unfinished arches serving as stabilisers against wind uplift. At Nara, the roof of the great shrine is weighed down with big baulks of timber so that the roof structure, which acts almost totally in compression, can resist wind uplift. And here is the same structural thinking. It's also a balancing act. And every so often as he goes down the main route Endo loses the balance, shrugs his shoulders, puts in a prop, as if to show how difficult the rest of it is, and on he goes.

When you see his amazing computer images you realise this is as close as it gets to building a sketch. This one apparently creaks and groans a bit whenever a train goes past, and you imagine the moving ripple of reflected colour at the same time.

You normally think of steel buildings as frame structures, but here is a steel building which is all surface. There's nice irony: the building is for bikes - and bikes are entirely frame structures.

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