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The man-made concrete plinth was rebuilt after the tsunami to raise the ground level following subsidence. This provides the horizontality required for the majority of the industry’s processes to take place, a gravitational barrier that only managerial/non-industrial events are able to transcend. This core architectural construct is perhaps the only form that actually enables the industry to function, rather than simply facilitating it.


The plinth creates a clear division between land and sea, and is part of a concrete landscape that stretches across the entire industrial area and out to the sea walls that protect the port. The plinth also delineates the separation between industry and city (a border which is reinforced by the four-lane highway that cuts East-West); a distinction that supports the industry’s conceptual autonomy from Ishinomaki City. This independence is favoured by both the market and national government, who consider the industry wholly as a supply zone to Tokyo, with any connection to its locality an inconvenience, an inefficiency.


The plinth provides evidence of the industry conforming to a national, or even global, outlook. The introduction of the plinth marks the transition from local port for local community to autonomous port for external community. 


The material fact of Ishinomaki fish market’s 850m length is a clear example of the actualisation of an industrial logic. This measurement makes it the longest, and with the largest capacity, unloading facility in the world; a fact that has become synonymous with the industry. (The previous market was destroyed by the tsunami and rebuilt in 2014 with government funding). It’s length provides the building, and therefore the industry, with a statistic, a claim, that can be used for political rhetoric, for business acquisition, for public reassurance. 


Surely this length is necessary to match projected industry growth, based on past performance? Perhaps not. Annual catch statistics show that the industry’s yield has been in decline for many years (due to a multitude of reasons discussed in the previous part of this series), with no prospect of increasing. This reminds us that the building itself is not productive of a certain yield, but only serves to facilitate what the sea, or the fleet that take from it, can supply. It then becomes clear that the tectonics of the building can not be explained solely as the actualisation of a hypothetical calculation of capacity based on past performance, as the building is disproportionally larger than the one it replaces and much of it now lies redundant as a result. There must therefore be more than just tecto-economic logics impacting the decision to build at this particular length, and political influences are coming into play.


Various large-scale, post-tsunami construction projects such as the protective sea wall and the earth plinths seem to display a mentality that may help to explain the political ideologies affecting the length of the building; bigger is better as it becomes a clearer and more tangible sign of recovery, of providing work, of ‘doing something’.


The building, and indeed its construction, therefore become their own raison d’être. 

Ishinomaki is one of the most significant fishing ports in Japan, thriving from its geographical proximity to one of the world’s three best fishing grounds. The rich diversity of sea life along this stretch of the Sanriku Coast provides thousands of fishing vessels with their daily catch, the majority of which is brought into land at Ishinomaki port. A single building, stretching 850m along the coastline, facilitates the processing of this fish. This industrial monolith, Ishinomaki Fish Market, houses the unloading, sorting, auctioning and crating of a significant portion of Japan’s fish, which is exported to Tokyo and other large cities across Japan and abroad.


The following article provides a taxonomy of this building, through visual representation and written analysis, to uncover the political, economic, social and industrial complexities embedded within this architectural form.


The previous part in this series, ‘Industrial Commons: The Case for Assembly within the Japanese Fishing Industry’, documented the economic and industrial logics that have led to a devaluation of various social organisations that were once integral to the industry’s management. The earthquake and subsequent tsunami of 2011 was the catastrophic event that concreted the complete displacement of these organisations from their industry. The article explored how the loss of various spatial constructs was productive of, as well as produced by, the degradation of the various organisations; the collective and it’s spatiality were proved to be symbiotically connected. 


This part in the series focuses on the architectural actualisation of the industrial economic logic that has constructed the industry as it exists today. What conceptual ideologies does the physical building express? Does the market’s form provide evidence of a political or industrial agenda? What processes and events does the architecture facilitate, or discourage? These are some of the questions we are asking when dissecting this architectural monolith.








A Monument to Consumption


The building’s internal volume is constructed as a single continuous, uninterrupted space, split just a number of times when required for external transportation routes.

The building portrays the characteristics of ‘Bigness’; a form that breaks with scale, with architectural composition, with tradition, with transparency, with ethics, until it is ‘no longer part of any issue’. The events that take place within this volume are not framed, only loosely spatially defined, and allowed to happen spontaneously at any point across a vast concrete surface. These events demand to interact, but ‘Bigness also keep them apart’. Spatial excess allows a huge variation in the precise locating of each event, and each event therefore has autonomy from others; a frictionless state of play which ensures the smooth continuation of the industrial process. 


The volume’s scale, and subsequent non-specificity, seems to be a product of the industrial logic that demands flexibility and variation within a designed set of parameters. It’s Bigness encourages quantity and repetition of event, but seems to discourage interaction, friction, moments of particularity. Nothing is hidden within the volume, and therefore everything is known, predefined, understood. There is a wall dividing fisherman and sea from market and buyer, and another wall dividing market from city and consumer. The space between these walls is a vast, uninterrupted place of transaction. Whilst the volume has complete transparency within, it is opaque to the outside world. Physical events are exposed, but the political, economic, industrial ideologies are concealed. 


The volume of the space may meet certain hypothetical functional requirements, but is not integral to the process. It contains the events, offering protection from weather and providing various servicing inputs, but is not productive of the industry. The destruction caused by the tsunami proved this, when the industry was forced to continue functioning within a temporary steel framed tent, where it managed to maintain its capacity for several years. The processes taking place pass through the building along its width, not its length or height, and therefore the length and volume of the building are products of a multiplication of the process. This seems to support the hypothesis that the building is not simply evidence of an industrial logic, it goes beyond solely providing the possibility conditions for the scale of this operation and also serves a political purpose. 



Whilst the building’s volume is split three times along its length to allow external access from quay to road, the roof maintains its continuity, spanning the entire 850m and cantilevering several metres over the quay. The roof’s fascia holds 23 neon numerals equally spaced along its length; the only symbol that gives distinction to the repetition of the monolith. The singular roof blurs together any nonconformities, any individuality, to ensure the monolithic form retains its power. 


The roof is the most significant tectonic elements of the building’s structure, consisting of a metre deep truss repeated along the building’s length. This depth is required to achieve the internal span without the need for internal structural interruptions, as well as the cantilever. 


Whilst the continuity of the roof is unnecessary for the industrial processes taking place beneath, it is integral to the political desire for an edifice. The various processes are all restricted to a horizontal route that intersects across the width of the building, with no awareness or interaction with the repetition of this process that the length allows. The roof unites this multitude of processes, establishing one process, one event, one industry. This consolidation creates a political object of a global scale. 


The tectonics of the building creates an intriguing dynamic with the city. It’s length consumes five city grid blocks of the city’s waterfront, built on reclaimed land that redefines the boundary between land and sea. It’s geographical location has a natural centre of gravity, drawing people towards its strategic placement. But it’s physicality displays the language of wall, of blockade, of defence. It offers the street nothing but repeated apertures designed for lorries - their threshold determined by the height of a lorry’s base (around a metre high). The few voids cutting through the building are marked with signs prohibiting people to enter - further evidence of the priority given to lorries or other objects of the processual assembly. 


This form has none of the characteristics of a public building, and perhaps it shouldn’t, but it’s status within the city’s conscious seems to look for a connection that is unrequited. Whilst the city depends on this building on a foundational level, the building and it’s magnitude do not need the city, they compete with the city. 

The architecture positions itself to take advantage of an infrastructural input (the sea) and output (the road), and beyond that it is contextless and autonomous. 




The offices and headquarters of the company that manages the market building are located in an architectural form that straddles between road and market hall, raised up to first floor and intersecting with the main volume to allow a stretch of windows to overlook the sorting, auctioning and trading taking place below (the black box in the image below). 


This spatial arrangement provides evidence of the actualisation of an economic logic that seeks to control the industry’s functioning. Firstly, this part of the building acts as the threshold between city and industry, providing the only clear entrance to the building. Most visitors enter the building via a bridge that connects to the car park on the opposite side of the road, spatially determining who is welcome to enter the building; namely individuals (buyers) invited to visit. Secondly, the overhanging internal volume constructs a one-way visual dynamic that gives dominance to management over workers; a spatial diagram of hierarchy that ensures conformity. 



The apertures in the building’s form provide further evidence of the actualisation of a logic that favours functional operation over human interaction. The vast number of rolling doors, present on both sides of the building to allow fork lift trucks to transport crates from quay, through sorting and auctioning to the waiting lorries beyond, are an example of this. These large doors, 3 metres high and several metres wide, are opened by pulling on a cord hanging from the soffit several metres away from the door - designed to allow fork lift truck drivers to pull on the cord as they pass so that the doors are open in time. This design claims to address issues of hygiene (the doors are only open when necessary), but also transforms the usual affordance of a door. There are very few doors besides these, and a strong dominance is therefore given to those operating a particular vehicle - a planned and designed part of the processual functioning of the building.


Much of the building is windowless. The only view from inside to outside, and therefore outside to inside, is for a brief moment when the doors are opened to allow a fork lift truck to pass through. A view may be framed, but the sides of the frame are in almost constant motion, either increasing or decreasing the scope of view. Therefore no view is static or preserved, and no consistent connection to context is established. (The management building is an exception to this rule, providing panoramic views over the sea wall and out to the Pacific Ocean beyond, as well as back over Ishinomaki itself towards the shrine upon the hill beyond.) 


The combination of perpetually closing doors and nonexistent windows creates an almost impenetrable surface along both sides of the 850m edifice. This defines a clear division between the quay’s fisherman and the auctioning of their fish within the building, as well as separating the public from the events taking place. This maintains the purity of the auction, of the transaction process, so that external factors are exclusive to the 100 registered buyers taking part in the auction. Economic efficiency is preserved, public scrutiny is minimised and neoliberalism prevails.


There is a soffit-mounted, 360 degree surveillance camera every 6 metres along the quayside of the building. That equates to approximately 142 cameras, allowing for complete coverage of the entire unloading operation. This level of surveillance is a direct consequence of the opaque wall; digital representation renders visual connection obsolete. An eternal record of a quotidian, ephemeral event. 


Surveillance ensures fairness and transparency between management and workers. Surveillance ensures dishonesty and opacity between management and workers. It’s existence may reassure fisherman / workers that dishonesty will be prevented by the recording and analysing of the process, or it may serve to remind fisherman / workers that they are being monitored, exploited and controlled. 


Adjacent to the market building is another spatial construct that reveals the actualisation of a particular political logic; a space that acts as the main canteen for the majority of workers in the industry. The canteen has a queue out of the door during the lunch hours, with a score of chef preparing fresh seafood meals to order, which customers sit at long, shared tables to eat. This canteen provides one of the key gathering spaces for fisherman, market workers, government officials and businessmen alike, all of whom eat the same food at the same tables.


However, this gathering / assembly of individuals is set within a temporary cabin, erected shortly after the tsunami in 2011 as a shelter and still waiting to be replaced. It’s uninsulated chipboard walls and steel cross-bracing are typical of the temporary aesthete that has come to represent much of Ishinomaki; the result of a temporary solution that has become a permanent part of the urban landscape.


Whilst the market monolith provides evidence of the actualisation of an industrial economic and political logic, perhaps the absence of a designed canteen supports this hypothesis; the non-actualisation of a social logic. 


At first glance this building appears to be the actualisation of a simple tecto-economic diagram; build the maximum area for the minimum cost and all possible events associated with the industry will be adequately housed. This taxonomy has revealed that the building is in fact a highly complex assembly of politically charged objects that represent an elaborate social, industrial, ecological and geographical context. Many conflicting views and logics are embodied within the market’s tectonics, and the building is far more intricate than it’s monolithic scale would suggest.


Join us in April for part three; ‘Architectural Intervention into an Industrial Edifice - An Assembly of Conflict’.












Article written by Benjamin Wells (opinions are the author's own, some facts may be inaccurate).

All photography and film content by Benjamin Wells.


Fieldwork research carried out in October 2015 in Ishinomaki, Japan.

This series is part of an ongoing architectural project undertaken as part of the author’s masters course - Political Architecture : Critical Sustainability - at The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Architecture and Design.

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