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Terunobu Fujimori floating tea houses celebrate impermanence

The buildings designed by Japanese architect Terunobu Fujimori seem straight out of a fairytale, but it’s his treehouses- with names like the “Too-high Teahouse” and “Flying Mud Boat”- that seem touched by magic.

When Fujimori designed his first building, he was 45-years-old and a well-known architectural historian and author so he felt pressure not to simply copy his peers, or anyone in architectural history. With this first work, the Jinchokan Moriya Historical Museum, he reached back to the Neolithic period for inspiration, using mud-and-mortar walls and tree trunks shooting out from the roof.

In the past 25 years, Fujimori has continued to experiment with his Neolithic modernism: a mix of natural materials and whimsical designs. He designed his own home, Tanpopo House, with volcanic-rock siding and glass and dandelions sprouting from the roof. The Lamune Hot Spring House was built around pine trees with their spires escaping from the roof. A building for a sake brewery, the Camellia Castle, is covered with grass and stone in a checkerboard pattern. A children’s museum, the Nemunoki Museum of Art, is covered in hand-rolled copper and living grass to resemble a “hairy mammoth”.

Despite his success in creating fairytale homes and museums, Fujimori’s most fantastical work is his teetering teahouses. We visited two in his hometown in Chino, Nagano, Japan: his “Takasugi-an”, the “Too-high Teahouse”, is perched 20 feet in the air on two slim chestnut trees; his “Flying Mud Boat” is suspended only by wire-thin cables.