LUXURYCULTURE.COM - Kazuyo Sejima: One Half of SANAA


The Japanese architect Kazuyo Sejima is not only one of the two founding partners of the Pritzker Prize-winning architecture practice SANAA but this year is also the director the Venice Architecture Biennale 2010.

Guest Editor: Gabriele Pezzini

The New Museum in New York, the satellite of the Louvre Museum in Lens, the Rolex Learning Center in Lausanne and the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa are just some of the celebrated buildings designed by the Japanese architecture firm SANAA. Founded in 1995 by Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, SANAA is considered one of the most influential practices in the world, a sentiment reflected in its win of the Pritzker Prize earlier this year. Unrestrained movement between spaces that are seemingly free of structure is what they are recognized for. Or, as Sejima puts it: “For us, one of the most important things is to find a relationship between the interior space and the outside environment.”

Despite their joint achievements under the SANAA label, both Sejima and Nishizawa maintain their independent projects (Nishizawa also continues to practice architecture under his own name). This year, Sejima is directing and curating the Venice Architecture Biennale. “The idea is to help people relate to architecture, to help architecture relate to people, and to help people relate to themselves,” she comments of the purpose of the event. Sejima’s involvement in the Biennale is no surprise, for the remit of SANAA takes in a broad range of architectural projects from landscaping, planning, interiors, exhibitions, furniture and product design. But, as she tells Gabriele Pezzini in this exclusive interview, she does not believe the ability to design can be applied to all products: “The starting point is the same but then you need the practice.”

What is your definition of luxury?
To enjoy time. I do not mean to have more time. I am perhaps not very good at using time; I waste a lot of time. My intention is not to control time but to enjoy it more.

Looking at your beautiful architecture, I have the impression that you use elementary shapes yet each time you manage to make something new and completely different, like a child playing with toys. Is my perception correct or is there something else behind your architecture?
What we are doing is often somehow simple, especially with the materials, which are not so innovative. For us, one of the most important things is to find a relationship between the interior space and the outside environment. So that means there is always something new in the appearance and in your experience of the building. Even if we designed the same thing, it would be different depending on the experience of being in New York City or in beautiful countryside. Of course, we try new things even if appears to look very similar. We slowly make innovations.

Another aspect of your architecture that I like very much is that you use materials in a simple way and the ingenuity is in the construction. For example, at the New Museum in New York, where the façade is a screen of an enlarged detail. There is a strong connection between design and architecture in your work. You go deep in technique and use details as key points…
The construction is not so complicated but is precise and simple. We never try to hide anything. If you can see how the wall is connected to the screen, you can understand the building more. At the New Museum, we didn’t want just a beautiful façade. We wanted to find a material that referenced the industrial feeling and so we changed the scale of the screen. So there is a relationship between the material quality and the atmosphere of the place. Also at the New Museum, we played with the finish: the aluminium or stainless steel was given a very precise polish before it was anodised to achieve a special depth of colour. Surface is intimately related to joints and from there you get the attention to the detail.

We can say that under the word project we can include different disciplines: design, architecture etc. Do you consider the talent for projects to be the same? For example, could you design a spoon as well as you design a building?
For the design, we would use the same approach as architecture but we do not have the required experience of working on a spoon or any other product. The starting point is the same but then you need the practice. Our projects might also end with something that is not a physical object, such as a party or the Venice Architecture Biennale 2010 [which Sejima directed and curated].

Where does your passion for architecture come from?
At the very beginning, it was just something by chance. But now I find passion in failures, so every project gives me new ideas and the emotion to do better. Each project, small and large, is another opportunity to think and improve. It is a continuing process.

There is a very strong culture in Japan– how influenced by that are you?
In Tokyo the lifestyle is in some ways the same as in Europe but in other ways it is completely different. It is a mix that affects our architecture. I do not notice myself that Japanese architecture has an influence on my work but I think I must communicate it. Also, the Japanese language is very unclear. Sometimes if I use English I become clearer in my opinions because I can only use very small words and phrases. But in Japanese I have a lot more to say and this is a big influence on me!

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