Japanese architecture has always been a frontrunner. With its ideology deeply rooted in nature, culture, values and relationships, Japanese architecture exudes ideas of minimalism, authenticity, and aesthetic functionality. Throughout the ages, they have showcased a subtlety, focusing on structuring relationships and interactions with the acceptance of transience and imperfections.
The Japanese idea of space represents more than just occupied space, it goes ahead and reflects on how interactions and identity are understood. Having four different words for its English equivalent “space”, Japanese architects negotiate with Wa (Relational Space that deepens connections), Ba (Concerned with how knowledge is formed and shared in a space), Tokoro (A state of being, connecting with the world around us) and Ma (Negative / Freespace that allows coexistence) giving us the gift of enriching ourselves with their timeless traditional and contemporary aesthetics.
This list here looks beyond the famous Japanese architectural offices like Tadao Ando, SANAA, Kengo Kuma, Junya Ishigami, etc., and explores architects that are engaging in a contemporary discourse traversing through traditional Japanese design and western modern philosophy.
1. Toshiko Mori Architects (TMA)
Based in New York, Toshiko Mori Architects have an expansive body of projects that reflect on strategies that are sensitive—ecologically and contextually. TMA’s projects offer serendipity as they weave the site context with a confounding amalgamation of material and technology. Cultural projects like Thread Artists’ Residences & Cultural Center in Sinthian, Senegal that rely on local materials and traditional construction to Commercial projects like 277 Mott Street in New York with its twisting facade appearing to shift from opaque to transparent, reflect on the architect’s experimental approach.
Center for Maine Contemporary Art, also elevates the studio’s practice with their refined control over proportions and well crafted detailing. Her projects encourage local communities to engage with the project and have a dialogue, a narrative that binds them together, even in contradictions. The studio’s projects comprise buildings with various forms and materials that become catalysts for people to come together.
Toshiko Mori’s forty years of practice exhibits how one can make vernacular materials—contemporary—and how with thorough research and practical appropriation, one can achieve a design that is functional, responsive, and captivating.
You can see TMA’s work here (embed link): https://tmarch.com/
2. Youji No Shiro by Hibino Sekkai Architecture
Youji No Shiro, which means “The Castle for Children” in Japanese is a practice that was established 30 years ago in Kanagawa, Japan as a section of Hibino Sekkei Architecture.
They revolutionised the way Japanese preschools were designed, almost characterless with the same size and shape and brought in a sensibility that gave children a thoughtfully designed space increasing their interaction with Nature, Art and Play.
With almost 500 completed projects in this space, their portfolio is filled with intelligent expansive work on children’s spaces. Container Kindergarten, which is constructed by connecting shipping containers highlights their thoughtful approach towards ecology, reducing the construction time and shedding light on ideas of recycling.
With their other projects, like MRN Kindergarten and KM Kindergarten and Nursery, they go on to create interesting roof profiles and dynamic terrains. They have abandoned artificial play facilities to create natural playscapes to stimulate children’s creativity and increase their physical activities. Their approach to creating similar programmatic spaces that evolve with different contexts and concepts is inspiring.
You can look at their work here: https://e-ensha.com/youjinoshiro/
3. Tezuka Architects
Established in 1994 by Takaharu and Yui Tezuka, this Tokyo-based practice is very well known for its residences, schools and hospitals. The firm believes in embracing the change in the world through architecture by designing for people and society. Their unique designs possess a fundamental understanding that makes their buildings accessible and humane.
Tezuka Architects often even engage in programming and pay an incredible amount of attention to people’s lifestyles accommodating all the modern technologies that surround us yet bringing them back to connect with nature. Sora no Mori clinic designed by them is open and transparent and has an ample outdoor area and courtyards, which allows the patients to engage with the environment. It is a beautiful gesture, quite contrasting with the usual clinic’s which are very inward and isolated.
Designed by them, is the Fuji Kindergarten and Ring Around A tree which enchants just about everyone with its innovative experiential quality and astonishing roof deck design. Their inclusive and eco-centric approach showcases a subtlety that connects humans and brings them together, making the world better, one building at a time.
You can take a look at their projects here: http://www.tezuka-arch.com/english/
4. Keiji Ashizawa Design
This studio focused on solutions that are ranging from furniture design to architecture is headed by Keiji Ashizawa. They believe in the philosophy of “Honest design”, focusing on multiple perspectives that design offers. Being rooted in Koi Shikwa, Tokyo the studio is inspired to practice and build for the local community. Their excellent contribution during the Japan Earthquakes, by developing a Furniture Laboratory that supports the DIY, open-source culture for the local population is stimulating.
Keiji’s values and culture represent a holistic approach to design that is quite unconventional in this very hierarchical field. Known for his Residential projects, Keiji Ashigawa is known for optimising the physical site conditions and embedding them within nature. His project 9h Nagoya, is a haven in the urban world, providing some contrast and opening up the capsule spaced hotel to relax and rest.
Similarly, his project, House in Yoga is greenery-filled, bringing in tranquillity from the outdoors to a house nestled in the urban city This studio’s open-minded practice often follows the Japanese thumb rule of incorporating nature within the household that can be galvanising to many students and practising architects.
You can look at their work here: https://www.keijidesign.com/
5. Atelier Tsuyoshi Tane
Tsuyoshi Tane, a Japanese architect who started his practice in France is famous for his archaeological approach towards architecture, which mediates in between the past and the future. The studio focuses on urban architecture and spatial design, widening their scope from residential projects to art installations.
Tsuyoshi Tane digs into the memory of the place to come up with some interesting concepts. These concepts transform into a kind of architecture that is rediscovered, recalculated and reintroduced to work in present times. His project, The Todoroki House comes from Tane’s research on how primitive civilisations built their homes in humid and arid areas. Mixing these two contrasting environments, Tane attempts to give this urban house a more diverse experience by combining various building types.
With every other project, he reflects his creative process which is inspired by both Japanese and European influence—evaluating site-specificity and making relationships between different sensibilities. This architectural practice behaves like a palimpsest, offering a unique perspective on the intangible quality of time.
You can look at their work here: http://www.at-ta.fr/
6. Jun Igarashi Architects
Founded in 1997, Jun Igarashi Architects finds itself in Hokkaido, Japan. The studio’s work reflects simplicity, thoughtfulness and refinement. With its comprehensive list of projects that range from Housing to Installations, Jun Igarashi Architects have a practical approach yet always a contemporary aesthetic.
With the exploration of fluid, organic forms and the use of timber in his projects, this studio explores the idea of scale like no other. With projects like House Vision, the architect experiments with the idea of the threshold, where the outside and inside are constantly challenged. This allows the new “in-between” space to be one that connects people with others, the context and the architecture.
Corridor of the Fold is another project that plays with its curved, smooth body standing out from other buildings in terms of scale material and form. His body of work is dynamic, intensely thoughtful and pushes the boundaries of traditional Japanese Architecture.
You can look at their work here: https://jun-igarashi.jp/
7. Katsutoshi Sasaki + Associates
This sustainable practice is advancing the limits of Japanese architecture with its minimal, contemporary and realistic aesthetic. The practice believes in creating a sense of place, further delving into creating an experience by connecting elements such as light, wind and temperature. This studio experiments with scale in their projects by challenging traditional Japanese proportions.
Their project namely, T House showcases their play with scale, by offering a new sense of movement and freedom, allowing the house to maintain everyday life and work activities. Wood, a predominant material used in their projects is also treated differently with changing scenarios. This is shown in the T house which features a dark painted red cedar facade with contrasting bright interiors.
Their Kasa House project reverses the relationship between interior spaces and the eaves. This gesture extends the living space into the outside, allowing the spaces to be laid back and create a sense of embracement. His other projects also maintain the co-existence of changing scale and material, guiding a way for natural elements like light and wind to take over.
You can look at their work here: https://sasaki-as.com/
This unique multidisciplinary platform invites creators such as artists, architects, dancers to gather and collaborate on various projects. Located in Kyoto, this studio is renovated from an old sandwich factory near the Uji River. This practice blurs the boundaries between art and architecture, by expanding their creative possibilities from construction to styling.
Kohtei Pavilion, designed by Sandwich is known for its symbolic interpretation. With its resemblance to the motif of a ship, the choice of material namely wood, stone and water, this structure is dedicated to the workers who lost their lives at sea. It creates this sense of in-between, that contributes to the visitor’s experience. The model of this practice allows for their work to be adapting and malleable.
Kyodo House is another project that is opposite of the Pavilion. This sustainable house, both in layout and material is inspirational. Made with leftover timber, this house boasts a double-height, open-plan living room surrounded by sleeping and utility spaces in such a way that it becomes most efficient to harvest solar energy. SANDWICH’s practice features a comprehensive range of projects correctly communicating the power of collaboration.
You can see their projects here: http://sandwich-cpca.net/?ja
9. Makiko Tsukada Architects
Established in 1995, this Hokkaido based firm is very well known for its contemporary Japanese homes. They build homes that share ideas of micro-living, unfolding strategies that weave in the everyday rituals of the clients. Their projects like The Kondo House and S & S House integrate the ideas of changing relationships between spaces and divide them softly to allow intermediate areas to become places where experiences are shared. Their Grass Cave House and Tunnel House bring with its distinctive characteristics.
With the characteristics of an urban cave, the Grass Cave House boasts its connection with nature with its green roof, maximising the scenery around as well as absorbing heat in the summers and preventing heat from escaping in the winters. The Tunnel House, a space that is connected by carving out volumes is quite a quirky building. It allows one to have a surreal experience as it creates contrasting yet really interesting volumes, giving its visitors a sense of exploration.
Makiko Tsukada’s experimental practice maintains communication between materials, light, nature and structure, making them one of the practices that are constantly innovating and creating notable architecture.
You can see their projects here: https://makikotsukada-architects.jp/works/
10. NKS Architects
Founded in 1995, NKS Architects are based in Fukuoka, Japan. Their design philosophy is in maximising the potential of each element that makes up the house. By combining different materials, they compose environments that exhibit a sense of unity between craftsmanship, production techniques and structure.
Their project Kazaguruma House creates a calm and warm environment, using locally produced cedarwood. An interesting roof structure, selection of low E glass and wooden ribs control how light enters the building. The architects view their buildings as experiments in reframing the existing conditions and advocating the potential changes that activate human networks within the structure.
Another project that reflects the studio’s philosophy of “structure” is Meiken Lamwood Corp. Head Office, that showcases a laminated wood called “Higushimi” in a diagonal grid structure arranged parallelly as its frame system. The building ensures necessary strength and has a spatial as well as a social structure, maintaining individual and combined activities.
The use of traditional Japanese techniques and overlapping them with modern aesthetics is consistently thoughtful and integrated and shows the creative process of this studio.
You can see their projects here: https://nksarc.com/