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Small House, Tokyo

©François Lauginie

Small House, Tokyo, 2000

Kazuyo Sejima
  • Architect (1956)

Internationally acclaimed Japanese architect Kazuyo Sejima began her career with the Platform I and II (1988, 1990) houses. It was in 1991 that her graphic and minimalist architecture began to attract attention with her major project for the Saishunkan Seiyaku Women’s Dormitory, collective housing designed for young employees. At the time Sejima was working on ways of creating new and closer relationships between collective and private areas, through the physical quality of spaces, the context and the distance separating them. This project was also the beginning of a design process which relied on the production of a great number of models, enabling her to gauge the right fit between a project’s form and the program and to measure the relations that emerge between volumes. The idea of the functional indeterminacy of space constitutes one of the architect’s most significant concepts: a volume can just as easily be a room as a place of passage. This concept can be found in many of her works, including the Gifu Kitagata apartments (1994) where she proposed new models for collective housing based on a generic program of standard apartments. In her buildings she also offers a new, highly developed definition of private and semi-private spaces (group of 20 apartments at Seijo, 2005; S House, Okayama, 1996 and Onishi Hall, 2003). Using the same approach as for her projects with SANAA, the thinness of walls not only offers a space saving advantage in terms of surface area but also brings and enhances the sensation of lightness, further strengthened by the creation of large openings that facilitate communication throughout the building as well as the free circulation of air.

Born in Mito in the Ibaraki region, Kazuyo Sejima studied at Japan Women’s University, graduating with a Master’s in 1981. That same year she joined Toyo Ito architects & associates where she worked until 1987, the year in which she founded her own firm, Kazuyo Sejima & Associates. In 1995, she formed a partnership with Ryue Nishizawa and created the SANAA architecture office, the headquarters of their collaboration (the firm was awarded the Pritzker Prize in 2010), while continuing to pursue her own projects with her independent firm. A professor at Keio University, guest professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design as well as at the ETH in Zurich, Kazuyo Sejima was the chief curator of the 2010 Venice Biennale of Architecture. For this event she chose the theme “People Meet in Architecture”, questioning the concept of the “encounter”, a recurrent theme in her own work, particularly in the program for the house.

Nadine Labedade