All around Los Angeles, you can see examples of modernist architecture, including the iconic case study houses of architects like Richard Neutra, Pierre Koenig, and Charles & Ray Eames. These visionaries and their successors were influenced deeply by traditions of Japanese architecture, which can be seen in their clean lines, open interior spaces, and attention to natural light and setting. But the story of Japanese architecture doesn’t stop with its influence on modernism and minimalism around the world. Today, Japan can claim an outsize number of award-winning architects who are sought-after for major projects worldwide. Here is a selection of five names you should know in learning about Japan’s current architecture scene.
(In alphabetical order: Tadao Ando, Shigeru Ban, Sou Fujimoto, Arata Isozaki, SANAA)
1. Tadao Ando
Tadao Ando is one of the godfathers of contemporary Japanese architecture, and won the Pritzker Prize (the highest honor in the field) in 1995. Born in 1941 in wartime Osaka, he worked as a truck driver and a boxer before becoming a self-trained architect –a career change inspired by his encounter with the works of Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier (who themselves had been inspired by Japanese architecture). He’s best known for minimalist, sensitive spaces that provoke contemplation – such as his “Church of Light” in Osaka, and the Benesse House on the art island of Naoshima. Ando’s signature material is grey concrete, and he even uses his own special recipe to mix it. It’s an element that can be heavy or even brutal, but in Ando’s hands, appears almost weightless, suspended in light.
2. Shigeru Ban
Above all else, the purpose of architecture is to provide shelter for humans. Tokyo-born Shigeru Ban has never forgotten this basic mission, and it has guided his career as an innovator in materials and design, as well as a humanitarian. As the founder of the Voluntary Architects Network, Ban pioneered the use of humble materials like paper and cardboard-tubing to create affordable DIY shelters for refugees and disaster victims in places like Rwanda and Turkey, as well as in Kobe, Japan (after the 1995 earthquake). But whether designing for disaster relief or for more permanent structures (like the Centre Pompidou-Metz Museum), Ban’s Pritzker Prize-awarded body of work reveals that architecture is ultimately just a frame for the human experience – and the frame can be beautiful and sustainable at the same time.