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Famous Japanese Architects That You Should Know

Written by:
Helen Back
Hufton+Crow (V&A Dundee by Kengo Kuma and Associates)

A few things stand out about Japanese architecture among Westerners. Older buildings, such as the famed Osaka Castle, feature mostly wood construction and tiled roofs.

One of the other famous examples of traditional construction is Todaiji Temple, which features a conventional Yosemune roof with a ridge and slope on four sides. A similar example is the Engyoji Temple seen in the 2003 movie The Last Samurai (playing on DIRECTV STREAM).

In modern times, buildings have featured a more contemporary design for earthquake resistance. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building stands out as an example of this style.

To appreciate Japanese architecture a little more, here are eight architects you should learn more about.

1. Shigeru Ban

Shigeru Ban, the designer of the Aspen Art Museum and Christchurch Transitional Cathedral, has enjoyed a worldwide practice since 1985 and won the Pritzker Prize in 2014. Ban is described as an ecological architect with skills in combining American and Japanese designs.

Ban received further acclaim after the 1994 Rwandan Civil War when he proposed paper tube shelters to house refugees. The architect's work since then has focused on temporary shelter after natural disasters.

Aspen Art Museum by Shigeru Ban ArchitectsAspen Art Museum by Shigeru Ban Architects. Image © Michael Moran / OTTO

2. Kazuyo Sejima

Sejima, the designer of the Asahi Shimbun Yamagata Office Building, is the second woman to win the Pritzker Prize. She is one of the founders of the SANAA studio, responsible for designing the O-Museum and Nishinoyama House.

Sejima's firm was one of the finalists for the New National Stadium Japan constructed for the 2020 Olympics. In addition to Japan, her studio has also completed projects in Switzerland and The Netherlands.

Sumida Hokusai Museum, Tokyo, JapanSumida Hokusai Museum, Tokyo by Kazuyo Sejima, Japan. Image © Kakidai 

3. Hara Hiroshi

Hiroshi has been involved with projects as diverse as Iida City Museum and Sapporo City Dome. He has also been involved with Bolivia's Casa Experimental.

In addition to being a celebrated architect, Hiroshi has authored several well-known essays on architecture, including Discrete City. Hiroshi's most famous book is "The ‘Floating World’ of His Architecture."

Kyoto StationKyoto Station by Hara Hiroshi. Image © Martin Falbisoner

4. Ito Toyo

Ito Toyo has worked with and trained other Japanese architects, including Kazuyo Sejima. Toyo is most well-known for having an abstract style blending the virtual and physical worlds.

He has been responsible for designing his namesake museum, Toyo Ito Museum of Architecture. Other noteworthy buildings that Toyo has designed include the Mikimoto Building and Tama Art University Library.

Museo Internacional del Barroco by Toyo Ito & AssociatesMuseo Internacional del Barroco by Toyo Ito & Associates. Image © Patrick Lopez Jaimes / Danstek

5. Oki Sato

Oki Sato has become famous for designing bags, jewelry, graphics, furniture, and buildings. Sato is renowned for founding the Nendo studio, which created the Olympics Cauldron for the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Sato's most famous exhibition is the 50 Manga Chairs, created in collaboration with his studio. His architectural designs include Kojimachi Terrace, Siam Discovery Mall, and Tenri Station Plaza CoFun.

6. Kengo Kuma

Kengo Kuma specializes in traditional and modern designs. In addition to Tokyo, Kuma's firm has offices in Beijing, Shanghai, and Paris.

This firm was the finalist for the 2020 Olympics stadium design. One thing that makes Kuma stand out from most architects is his belief in wood's importance in design.

Kusugibashi Bridge by Kengo Kuma & AssociatesKusugibashi Bridge by Kengo Kuma & Associates. Image © Katsumasa Tanaka

7. Tadao Ando

Tadao Ando was mostly self-taught and has won the Annual Prize of the Architectural Institute of Japan and the Pritzker Architecture Prize. Some of Ando's most famous designs include the 4 x 4 House and The Church of the Light.

Hyogo Prefectural Museum of ArtHyogo Prefectural Museum of Art by Kengo Kuma & Associates. Image © Tak1701d

8. Terunobu Fujimori

Terunobu Fujimori is famous as an architectural historian as well as an architect. Fujimori's credentials include being a TV host and author as well.

This architect has won the Japan Grand Art Prix Award. One of his signature designs is the Chocolate House/Copper House.

An Eccentric Tea House by Terunobu FujimoriAn Eccentric Tea House by Terunobu Fujimori. Image © ToLoLo studio


These Japanese architects have unique styles that have influenced the architecture world in many unique ways. Learning more about their designs is worth your time.            

By Liliana Alvarez

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