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

We can change where we live, how we want

I: Building on what we’ve talked about so far, I’d like to ask you about architecture education. I remember you saying before that it would be good if architecture students would go on to work for the government, and then there would be architecture graduates on both the commissioning and commissioned side. What are the ingredients you need when you’re designing architecture?

S: In fact, it is odd to call the user, who should be the protagonist, a ‘user’. What is important is that people become aware that they like things through using them, and the feeling of creating our own city by ourselves. I would also really love it if the user received some education about architecture.

Then I think we could make even better towns and cities. Also, I think it would be good to have architecture as an element of generation education. Even if you don’t get people drawing blueprints, there are a certain number of people who are interested in architecture and read magazines about it, for instance, and learn about both Japanese and international architecture and its history. And if there were more of these people, that thought about their own areas, then I think that cities would increasingly be shaped by their citizens.

Accompanying the lives of people

I: Actually, a while ago, I went to the Hitachi City Hall, which you designed. I think the people at the city hall were really passionate, and they came to SHIBAURA HOUSE three times during the planning process of their own office, to learn about us and our process. We only went to the city hall for a short time, so I wasn’t able to get a full picture, but I’m really looking forward to seeing how the office affects the surrounding area. As you said before about the user’s perspective, there is a sense that the area like the plaza underneath the big roof creates a space for the people in the office to find their own ways of using the space. It would be great if the users and the architects could create a constructive relationship.

S: Yes. And my hope is that, when I leave, I can think of myself as a citizen of Hitachi, even if I’m not living there. And when I think that, I’d like to be able to imagine the city hall as one of the symbols of the city.

日立市新庁舎竣工式典
▲Hitachi City’s new city hall opening ceremony (Image provided by Kazuyo Sejima & Associates)

I: In SHIBAURA HOUSE’s case, I feel like we will be testing to see how far we can permeate the lives of local people. Until now, in a sense, it was made up of rental spaces that more or less ran themselves, and even people who weren’t close by could come to an event if it interested them. But now, because people can no longer freely move around, we have to think about what interesting things we can do in the immediate area, for local people. Groceries, commuting, traveling to school, going to the hospital: if we could add something to these kinds of everyday activities, I think we could use SHIBAURA HOUSE in yet another different way.

S: One more year and it’ll be the 10th year anniversary, won’t it. I don’t know what will happen from now, but in these ten years, many problems have come to light. And I think this year people have really become strongly conscious about creating a good environment where they live. Instead of simply complaining about the situation, we need to take action and do something. Of course, it’s difficult to take sudden action, so you need to get the community involved. Then you will begin to understand where you stand.

I: Yes, that’s right. I really feel now that with COVID-19, people are starting to question the state of society as a whole, and also individuals’ mentality. As you say, at the same time as having a perspective on what architecture can do, I think new possibilities will open up if we think about what we can do together with architecture. That’s why, in a positive sense, I would like to set aside what I’ve done so far, and think calmly about the next step. That said, in reality I’m still frantically flitting around every day!

(Interviewed at Kazuyo Sejima’s office, Oct. 12,2020)


Kazuyo Sejima
After graduating with a masters from Japan Women’s University, and working at Toyo Ito & Associates architectural office, she established Kazuyo Sejima Architects in 1987. In 1995, she established SANAA with Ryue Nishizawa. Her recent works include Umebayashi no Ie, Inujima “Art House Project”, the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa*, the ROLEX Learning Center*, and the Louvre Lens*. (Projects marked with a * were made by SANAA).

She was the general director of the 12th Venice Biennale Architecture Exhibition. She has received many awards, including the Architectural Institute of Japan Award, and the Pritzker Architecture Prize.

Masaru Ito
Born in 1974. Graduated from the Department of Media Art, Kyoto University of Art and Design. He joined Kohkoku Seihan Inc (currently SHIBAURA HOUSE Co, Ltd) in 2005. He has been CEO since 2010.