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Reflection on the past 9 years from the perspective of an architect and management, with Kazuyo Sejima

How to respond to changes in society

I: When the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami happened in 2011, I think it was a turning point for lots of architects, yourself included. Do you feel that the way you look at things has changed, or has the word or concept of ‘architecture’ changed for you in some way?

S: When the earthquake happened, I realized that we humans are animals too. How should we interact and engage with nature? Because nature can overwhelm and overpower us. We couldn’t do anything but watch the tsunami wash away everything. That was the biggest shock for me.

So, instead of only thinking about how architecture can successfully interact with nature, I started to think about how to make a building that is one part of a town or city in which everyone lives together. With corona, everyone is saying that we have to stay away from each other, but I think that’s putting it backwards. I think people in every single field should be thinking about how people can be together without causing problems.

Like I said before, instead of creating a situation in which we have to design while feeling like we’re in a complete bind, everyone should take a little more risk and think about creating a space, or city, in which we can be together.

In order to avoid making dysfunctional architecture

I: I often cycle past the new National Stadium. I’m sorry for using this as an example, but because of the virus, it’s lying unused, after the Tokyo 2020 Olympics were postponed. The whole building had a single purpose, that is, for the Olympics, or for sports, and so has ended up becoming simply a symbol. It might have been a different story if the building’s design requirements had been defined differently.

S: Yes, indeed. This just popped into my head, but imagine if it was made into a park where anyone could go in. And maybe there wouldn’t be any competitions, but people could just use it freely.

I: Yes. For example, in the case of a disaster, it could also be used as an evacuation center. Perhaps if the owners of the building asked for the buildings to be used in different ways, or to be able to respond to changing circumstances, the direction of architecture would change. I feel like your proposal was closest to that in sentiment.

新国立競技場「SANAA +日建設計」案
▲ New National Stadium, proposed by SANNA + Nikken Sekkei Ltd.Photo provided by: SANAA

S: Yes! (laughs). Right now, architecture is only required to be perfect within a certain ‘frame’. And there are many cases where if the situation shifts even slightly, it becomes useless.

I: It’s an obvious thing to say, but buildings are really fixed, material things, aren’t they. With the world around us changing so much, it’s very difficult for them to respond to the changes. That said, the more I think about it, the more I think that one day we will see a different kind of architecture, emerging on a different level. 

S: Yes, that’s an interesting idea. A building that different people want to use in all kinds of ways. And a building that allows itself to be used in all those different ways.