Thursday, April 8, 2010

68. Take a lesson from SANAA

cartoon credit:

First let me extend my sincere congratulations to SANAA on the announcement that they will recieve the Pritzker.
One of the first things I did after I learned the news was to type in SANAA into Google to find out something more about them. I already know their work very well, but what about Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa? how did they become so famous? How did they do it? One thing I knew was that success leaves clues and I was intent on finding out.

My guiding question: what can we learn from these two?

Here is what I found:

1. Ryue will be only 44 years old when he receives the Pritzker. That's perhaps the youngest to ever receive the prize. He has beaten out some of the heavy weights who have been around on the waiting list for a long time, including Peter Eisenman, Daniel Libeskind, Steven Holl, and even his former boss Toyo Ito. How did he do it?

First he worked for a famous architect while he was in school. An invaluable credential needed to become a famous architect yourself. Almost every famous architects have learned the trade under a master. Ryue did this early in his academic career. Both he and
Kazuyo apprenticed under Toyo Ito. When Kazuyo started up her own firm, he had the good sense to go off and work for her too. Another good reason to work for a famous architect; You will meet people who could become your future partner there.

Secondly he read my blog and took it to heart. When he felt the need to break out on his own he was able to be open and coachable. He must have understood at some point in his decision making process that to unite & conquer was better the one man against the world philosophy. He accepted the offer to partner up with Kazuyo where they were able to achieve much more together than apart.

2. We can see that there is some truth to Jeffery Kipnis' observation on the development stages of a famous architect. SANAA's history is but a variation on it.

  • STAGE ONE [unbuilt break through projects]: Although SANAA's break through came with multiple projects that were actually all built. They definitely had a break through stage where they were getting published a lot and it attracted the attention of just the architectural community.
  • STAGE TWO [Exhibitions]: we can see after 1993 the office was inundated with not just exhibitions but also awards. I would argue that stage two is as much about awards as it is about exhibition. Largely speaking, its about being recognized by outside entities: amassing symbolic capital. You will see that this also includes invitations to lecture and/or teach at renowned collages and universities as well. An invitation to teach at Harvard is pretty much a status symbol that every famous architect receives when they near or cross the line into fame.
  • STAGE THREE [a seminal built project]: Again, SANAA were never paper architects at any points in their careers unlike Peter Eisenman, or Zaha Hadid, so their work has always combined artistic, pragmatic and intellectual elements from the very beginning and then matured over time. However, one could point to the O-museum as a significant commission that gave them the opportunity to develop these elements in their work more freely.

3. SANAA remained true to themselves. In a climate where most firms kind of rush to follow the latest fad, they rely focused on becoming experts on their own way of doing things. Now that the climate is such that bombastic architecture is associated with the greed and excess that caused the financial crisis, the Pritzker committee is now turning its focus in the opposite direction which is just where SANAA happens to be.

4. And most importantly did you check out Kazuyo Sejima's eye wear. This lady paid attention to her glasses and her clothes and that's no joke.

Conrad Newel

Liberating Minds Since August 2007

Road Map to Fame : SANAA Architects

KAZUYO SEJIMA born in Ibaraki prefecture, Japan


RYUE NISHIZAWA Born in Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan


KAZUYO graduates from Japan Women's University with a Masters Degree in Architecture & starts working in Toyo Ito's office

KAZUYO Established Kazuyo Sejima & Associates and hires RYUE as one of her first staffers

Kazuyo Sejima & Associates receives their first major award: Project selected for the Kajima Award - MCH House Kajima Prize

RYUE Graduated from Yokohama National University with a Masters Degree in Architecture
More accolades pour in as the office's work is selected for the exhibition "Last Scene in Architecture" (Touko Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo) and receives an Honorable Mention for the SD Award for La Maison de la Culture de Japon, Paris, SD Review

Awarded JIA Prize for Best Young Architect

The Office now begins to gain momentum in its popularity as they recognized for several awards and exhibitions: LABYRINTH New Generation in Japanese Architecture (Sezon Museum of Art, Tokyo, Hyogo)
Japanese Contemporary Design (National Museum of Modern Art, Seoul)
Third prize, Yokohama International Port Terminal Design Competition
Grand Prize, Commercial Space Design Award '94 for "Pachinko Parlour I & II"

Ryue Nishizawa expresses that he wants to go off and establish his own office. Kazuyo convinces him to stay and offers him partnership. Kazuyo closed Kazuyo Sejima & Associates and the two established a new office with the name SANAA [an acronym derived from the names of both partners.]
SANAA = Sejima + And + Nishizawa + And + Associates

Recieves the Kenneth F. Brown Asia Pacific Culture and Architecture Design Award
University of Hawaii for "Saishunkan Seiyaku Women's Dormitory"
Construction begins on the O Museum - 1995 to 1999 - Nagano, Japan

KAZUYO becomes Visiting professor at Japan Women's University, at Tokyo Institute of Technology, at Tokyo Science University

RYUE Established his own office [Ryue Nishizawa architect] for doing small scale works [private houses, etc] but still remains partner at SANAA

Wins the "International Competition for the World Buildings" in Salerno
K-Building, Ibaraki, Japan
N-Museum, Wakayama, Japan
M-House, Tokyo, Japan

De Kunstlinie Theater & Cultural Center - 1998 to Present - Almere, Netherlands

21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art - 1999 to 2004 - Kanazawa, Ishikawa, Japan


Both are invited to become visiting Professor at Harvard GSD, Cambridge, USA

Erich Schelling Architekturpreis
Work was included in the exhibition "City of Girls" in the Japanese Pavilion at the 2000 Venice Biennale

Work exhibited in the Garden Cafe at the 7th International Istanbul Biennale, Istanbul, Turkey


KAZUYO accepts Professorship at Keio University, Tokyo, Japan & Visiting professor at ETH in Zurich

La Biennale di Venezia, 7th International Architecture Exhibition"City of girls" Japanese Pavilion, Exhibition Design, Arsenale, Venice, Italy
PRADA Beauty ISETAN, Tokyo, Japan (until 2002)

The New Museum of Contemporary Art - 2003 to 2007 - New York City, New York
Zollverein School of Design - 2003 to 2006 - Essen, Germany
Christian Dior Building, Omotesando COMPLETED \ Tokyo, Japan
Naoshima Ferry Terminal - 2003 to 2006 - Kagawa, Japan

Awarded the Golden Lion for the most remarkable work in the exhibition Metamorph in the 9th International Architecture Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia in 2004


Rolf Schock Prize in the visual arts
Recieved the 46th Mainichi Shinbun Arts Award (Architecture Category)

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion - 2009 - London, England
Rolex Learning Center at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne - 2004 to 2010 - Lausanne, Switzerland
kazuyo sejima appointed director of the venice architecture biennale 2010


Awarded the Pritzker Prize