Japan, the land of the rising sun, is a fascinating country where old-meets-new; it adheres to its traditions and roots while also allowing for innovation and new trends. Today, Japanese architects play essential roles in creating global architectural trends. Many historical and contemporary architectural structures are now popular tourist destinations and these spaces, and this has been a fascination for the world.
Here’s a list of Japanese architects who have changed the face of the design industry. Hang in there!
1. Kenzo Tange
Kenzo Tange was born in Osaka, Japan, on September 4, 1913. He was a university professor and one of the leading architects of the Metabolism movement in the 1960’s. Tange was one of the most famous 20th-century architects who incorporated traditional and modern architectural styles in his designs and participated in various projects worldwide. In 1987, he became the first Japanese architect to earn the coveted Pritzker Architecture Prize.
In the 1960 World Design Conference, Tange presented one of his most famous projects, a concept for a floating city in Tokyo Bay. His son, Paul Noritaka, was named president of Kenzo Tange Associates in 1997, and in 2002, he founded Tange Associates.
2. Tadao Ando
Born on September 13, 1941, Tadao Ando was also one of the Japanese architects inspired by the international icon Le Corbusier. He was first drawn to architecture at the age of 15 but later became a boxer and a truck driver. Between 1962 to 1968, he taught himself the concepts of design through apprenticeships, night classes and exploring the world to study architecture. In 1969, he opened his firm Tadao Ando Architectural & Associates.
In a brief period, he won the Annual Prize of the Architectural Institute of Japan and, later after gaining international acceptance, the Pritzker Architecture Prize. His most famous designs are Church of Light, Osaka, Water Temple, Hyogo, 4×4 house, Hyogo and Fabrica Research Center, Italy. “I would like my architecture to inspire people to use their resources, to move into the future,” he says.
3. Ito Toyo
Ito Toyo is a well-known Japanese architect noted for his conceptual designs through which he attempts to connect both the physical and virtual worlds simultaneously. Born on June 1, 1941, he admits that he didn’t have much interest in design during his youth, and his appeal was cultivated later on in life. He finished his Bachelors of Architecture from Tokyo University and went on to work with Kiyonori Kikutake & Associates, and later started his practice in 1971.
He believes in training young and upcoming architects and has trained some of the most influential architects of Japan like Makoto Yokomizo, Astrid Klein and Kazuyo Sejima. Some of the most famous designs of this Pritzker Prize laureate are: Toyo Ito Museum of Architecture, Tama Art University Library in Tokyo, and the Mikimoto building in Tokyo.
4. Shigeru Ban
Also known as ‘People’s architect,’ the 2014 Pritzker Prize winner Shigeru Ban is a well-known ecological architect who also masters in combining both Japanese and American design elements. He started his practice in 1985 and since then has worked on various projects worldwide. His “Paper Architecture” philosophy came from the time of 1994 Rwandan Civil War, where the living conditions were terrible; he had proposed his paper-tube shelters to the United Nations for Refugees.
Since then, he has worked extensively designing temporary covers for communities affected by natural catastrophes. “I did a lot of tests, and I finalized my research. Paper has become a part of my visual vocabulary. You know, paper is an industrial material. You can do almost anything with it. Wood, for example, is much more difficult to adapt to different needs,” he says.
5. Hara Hiroshi
Born on September 9, 1936, Hara Hiroshi is an author and a Japanese architect. He completed his BA in 1959 and his MA and Ph.D. by 1964 from the University of Tokyo. He has written many architectural essays, Discrete City being his most famous one, and books like The ‘Floating World’ of His Architecture, Shūraku No Oshie 100, and Yet.
Some of his favorite designs are Sapporo Dome, Casa Experimental in Argentina, and Iida City Museum.
Known for her modernist designs, Sejima is the second woman to receive the Pritzker Prize in 2010. She did her Bachelors of Architecture from Japan Women’s University and went on to do her masters in 1981 and began working with Toyo Ito until 1987. In the 1990s, she partnered with her former employee Ryue Nishizawa and opened a new studio, SANAA. They majorly designed structures in Japan like Nishinoyama House in Kyoto and O-Museum.
Their firm was also among the 11 finalists for the New National Stadium Japan design for the Tokyo Olympics 2020. Some notable international projects are De Kunstlinie Theatre and Cultural Centre in the Netherlands and Rolex Learning Center at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland.
7. Oki Sato
One of the most influential and well-known designers, Oki Sato, was born on December 24, 1977. He is an architect and designer who studied at the reputed Waseda University in Tokyo. He started his own studio Nendo (Japanese word for modeling clay). He has organized many successful exhibitions worldwide, one of his most iconic being the 50 chairs based on Japanese manga comics and Between Two Worlds (Escher X Nendo).
He actively works with many international brands designing furniture, jewelry, graphics, bags and accepting various projects. He has been the Guest of honor in the reputed Toronto Interior Design Show and Stockholm Furniture & Light Fair. Some of his architectural projects are Siam Discovery, Kojimachi Terrace, Tenri Station Plaza CoFuFun and many more. His firm Nendo also designed the 2020 Tokyo Olympics Cauldron which was seen in the opening ceremony.
Terunobu Fujimori is a well-known architect and architectural historian. Born in Nagano Prefecture, he studied at Tōhoku University and finished his education at the University of Tokyo and is currently a professor. Today, he is an author and also a TV host. He also represented Japan at the 2006 Venice Biennale.
Some of his famous designs are the Chocolate House, Fuku Akino Art Museum and Nira House. He has won the very reputed Japan Grand Art Prix Award.
9. Kengo Kuma
Kengo Kuma is regarded as one of the most important modern Japanese architects of the 21st century. He has been a leader in contemporary and traditional Japanese construction techniques. After completing his master’s at the prestigious Tokyo University, he worked for TODA Corporation and later went to New York City as a researcher at Columbia University.
Kuma started his firm, Kengo Kuma & Associates, in the year 1990, and currently, his firm has offices in China (Shanghai and Beijing), France (Paris) and Japan (Tokyo). He is well known for using wood as a material in his various projects, and he believes that wood will become a key element in the 21st-century era of design. His firm was selected to design the stadium for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“Nature is synonymous with change and potential. Whatever seems fixed and immutable within our myopic human time-span is still in flux over glacial aeons because it’s free particles.”
― Kengo Kuma, Kengo Kuma: Small Architecture / Natural Architecture
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