Photo/IllutrationArchi-Depot Museum is a warehouse-cum-gallery that houses miniature architectural building models. (Photo by Lisa Vogt)

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“You have to go to Archi-Depot,” a guy I met at a party said to me.

“Archi-Depot? I’ve never heard of it. What is it? And where?” I asked.

“It’s a museum for ... no, it’s more like a storage facility for ... no, it’s a place where you can see models. Models of buildings,” he replied.

No image registered on my mind, so I just repeated the words “models of buildings.” He saw that I was puzzled and tried to be more articulate: “It’s a warehouse in Tennozu that showcases miniature 3-D models that architects or maybe designers make to enable people to visualize a place better before any real construction takes place.”

That gave me a vague notion of the kind of place he was talking about, but I needed more information. So, I had my best friend, Google, take me to the Archi-Depot website where I learned that this was English for “kenchiku souko” (architecture warehouse).

I was intrigued and before long, I was on my bicycle heading for Tennozu Isle. Twenty years ago, I used to frequent a waterfront warehouse restaurant in that area, so I was excited to return after a long hiatus. It turned out that the museum was affiliated with that eatery!

Archi-Depot is run by Warehouse Terrada, aka Terada Souko. It provides storage services for architecture-scale models, collects and archives them, showcases selected pieces on site, loans out models, and is a venue for lectures and events.

The entrance fee seemed steep at 3,000 yen ($27.40), but once inside, it felt justified. The venue has two spaces. One is for scale models that are chosen and displayed according to the current theme. The other houses changing exhibitions.

Exhibited now are works by the New Material Research Laboratory, an architectural firm in Tokyo. The NMRL uses ancient and medieval materials, as well as industrial materials, and “reinterprets” them by using them in contemporary architecture. At the entrance is a wall made up of straw brooms--old material used in a completely different fashion. Yes, indeed.

The museum is not for everybody. If you’re into architecture, or if you’re a hobbyist who enjoys building plastic models, you’re likely to spend a satisfying hour or so at Archi-Depot.

Architecture is usually a building, yet a building is not always architecture. Then, what makes architecture?

Archi-Depot got me thinking about this, and I got all tangled up. Maybe it has to do with intentional thought and intuitive recognition. Hmm, a pabulum for thought.

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This article by Lisa Vogt, a Washington-born and Tokyo-based photographer, originally appeared in the Jan. 20 issue of Asahi Weekly. It is part of the series "Lisa’s In and Around Tokyo," which depicts the capital and its surroundings through the perspective of the author, a professor at Meiji University.