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Thomasson: Architectural Relics That Serve No Purpose

A city is like a living organism, constantly growing and evolving with time. Buildings get renovated, new structures are added and old ones removed, and in this process bits and pieces get left behind. We have all seen them: a flight of stairs that ends in a blank wall, a door hovering on the exterior of the second floor with no balcony, a walled over doorway.

These architectural vestiges that serve no purposes have a name. They’re called “Thomassons”, a term coined by Japanese artist Genpei Akasegawa, who first began to notice these urban relics around Tokyo in 1972.


A useless staircase at a house in Japan. Photo credit: yosukesan/Wikimedia

While walking to lunch one day, Akasegawa noticed a staircase that had no entranceway when one reached the top. But what really drew his attention were the signs of repair on the handrail on the staircase, indicating that it was still being maintained despite the apparent uselessness of the staircase itself. Akasegawa began to seek out these odd structures. The following year, Akasegawa discovered a boarded up ticket window at a railway station. The plywood used to board up the window had been cut neatly to fit the curved stone tray of the ticket window, where it had been worn through years of use. One of Akasegawa’s friend found a gateway at a hospital that had been completely filled up with concrete.

Akasegawa and his friends began calling them “hyperart”. By Akasegawa’s description, “they were like pieces of art that has no purpose in society but still preserved with care, to the point where it appears to be on display.” But “hyperart” doesn’t have a creator, and cannot be deliberately created by an artist, but only found and recognized as such by an observer.

Those pieces of hyperart were later given the name "Thomasson." The term comes from Gary Thomasson, an American baseball player who was traded to Tokyo’s Yomiuri Giants. Thomasson was paid an exorbitant amount of money for a two-year contract. But when he failed to perform as his managers had hoped, he was benched for most his contract. For Akasegawa, Thomasson was both “useless” and “maintained.”

At first, Akasegawa began publishing his Thomasson photographs at a weekly magazine column. Eventually, these photographs became a book titled Hyperart: Thomasson.

Examples of Thomasson


A useless door. Photo credit: Kunitaka NIIDATE/Flickr


A Thomasson tunnel. Photo credit: Wikimedia


Photo credit: petite-tomo/Flickr


Photo credit: twinleaves/Flickr


Photo credit: RawheaD Rex/Flickr


Photo credit: flasksrw/Flickr


Photo credit: flasksrw/Flickr


Photo credit: Caroline Park


Photo credit: Winni Wintermeyer


Photo credit: Winni Wintermeyer


Photo credit: Winni Wintermeyer


Photo credit: Mathieu C


Photo credit: Andria Lo


Photo credit: Seng Chen


Photo credit: Seng Chen

Sources: Wikipedia / 99percentinvisible /

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