Kazuyo Sejima

Part 26 of a month-long celebration of Women’s History Month 

Kazuyo Sejima (b. 1956) was raised and even named to be independent, her parents providing her the atypical suffix -yo rather than -ko. Once determined in her future profession, she completed a master’s degree in architecture at Japan Women’s University. After working in the office of the esteemed Toyo Ito for six years, in 1987 she opened her own firm, Kazuyo Sejima & Associates. Seven years later she regrouped, partnering with employee Ryue Nishizawa to found SANAA (Sejima and Nishizawa and Associates).

Headquartered in Tokyo, the firm has worked throughout Europe and Asia on commercial buildings, university projects, residences,  theatres and museums, and is known for sparing, simple modernist designs executed with fine and finely detailed materials and awash in daylight streaming through and reflecting from miles of smooth surfaces. Highlights of their thickly impressive portfolio include the New Museum of New York City, the  Institut Valencià d’Art Modern (or IVAM), the Rolex Learning Center (Lausanne, Switzerland; above), the Louvre-Lens (Pas-de-Calais, France), the O-Museum in Nagano, and the Twenty-first Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa. Her proposed design for a semi-transparent, mirrored commuter train in Japan is supposed to blend with the landscape and sounds like technology right out of S.H.I.E.L.D.

The firm together, and Sejima individually, have been awarded a raft of prizes from Japan, Germany, USA, Austria, Italy, Sweden, Mexico, and Germany, including Young Architect of the Year (Japan institute of Architects, 1992), Kenneth F. Brown Asia Pacific Culture and Architecture Award (1995), Minister of Education’s Art Encouragement Prize (Tokyo, 2006), Japan Architecture Award (2006), International Fellowship of RIBA/Royal Institute of British Architects (2007), StellaRe Prize (Turin, 2009) and Erna Hamburger Prize (Lausanne, 2009), and the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (France, 2009). She has held teaching positions at Tama Art University and Japan Women’s University an Keio University (all in Tokyo), Princeton and the Polytechnique (Lausanne). She is the first woman to direct the architecture section of the Venice Biennale (2010), the same year she became the second woman to win the Pritzker Prize, in context of her collaborative work with SANAA.

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