What do you do with the world's largest non-floating ship's hull — 165 feet long, 20 tons of steel and wood — when it's sailing above the lobby of your corporate headquarters? That was the question facing the executives of Yazaki, one of the world's leading manufacturers of automotive-electrical technology, two years ago. First, Tadasu Ohe, the Japanese architect who designed the company's North American home base in Canton, Michigan, had convinced them that it might be interesting to suspend a full-sized hull in the building's atrium. Now the boat was literally hanging over their heads.
Not that they'd objected to Ohe's dramatic proposal or regretted giving it the go-ahead. After all, from a purely aesthetic point of view, the wooden hull helps anchor the stark, see-through building (the largest free-standing glass structure in North America). Still, it's a mighty big design statement: The hull's 6,000-square-foot interior is larger than a couple of four-bedroom homes. Could it also be an integral part of daily life for the 1,300 employees who would eventually work in the building? Ohe and the executive team finally decided to use the hull to house Yazaki's extensive technical library and its vast collection of patent certificates and awards.
Ohe refers to the structure as "a ship of future memories. It symbolizes the entire past of Yazaki as well as the voyage into the new century," he says. It's an unorthodox approach: Build a big boat, and then retrofit a use for it. But the hull's been a hit with employees, who otherwise spend most of their time out in the open, working in what is essentially a big glass cube of a building. Now they can find some solitude and solace in the hull, the only place in Yazaki's entire headquarters that doesn't have windows.
A version of this article appeared in the July 2001 issue of Fast Company magazine.