54 The Heroine : SEJIMA-san せじまさんおめでとう!

At the first encounter, I was extremely attracted as well as stunned by this image. As a just-graduated architect, I was not able to understand – the space seemed to fill fully with a cloud of steams, humid and a bit warm….. Looking at the image, I was feeling somehow a bit difficult of breathe, at the same time very drawn to get closer. Everything seemed to be rather surreal.

It happened in the summer of 1993, an exhibition space in Aoyama of Tokyo, I was at the prize ceremony of ‘Architecture of the Year’ by JIA (Japan Institute of Architects). The building, House in a Forest, was awarded the best architecture of the year.

With all my knowledge of architecture by then, the planning of the house was very unconventional – the ring space surrounds the central space which is no function, while the ‘rooms’ are plugged around the ring out to the forest. It was the first time that I saw such an organization of the space in relation to the programs.It was the first time I got to know her – Kazuyo Sejima. Quite a knock!

The view from the ring to the central space:

The house somehow (strangely) blends in the forest…

At the time, I was in Tokyo under the fellowship of Bunka-Cho (Ministry of Culture). My mentor, Professor Nobuo Hozumi of Waseda University, always said that the next century (the 21st century) would be a century of woman architect – he is really a wise man in the 21 st century two woman architects received Pritzker Prize. Professor Hozumi, therefore, insisted that I had to visit Sejima-san’s office right after the event. Of course I went.

I was not so sure where it was, but the office was basically just a small room, filled with models and documents, wherever my eyes could lay on. Sejima-san arrived late with hurry. She apologized. She explained what she was doing by then with little words, I did not understand much. Her architecture seemed to be so far away from my understanding of what architecture was… but her being very quiet, soft but at the same time very strong determination inside was very charming. Not to mention her dressing style – super cool!

Again I was stunned by her person no less than her works. She gave me this book which I have been treasured until now:

The small book that collects all her works from 1987-1994 which she used for her exhibition to cover the overall floor surface leaving only the path to walk through:

After the visit, I had a chance to see all the works until then. They all were strange and against many things I used to believe about architecture. I got addicted -_-” to her works.

My favourite was the Pachinko Parlor here. Very strange usage of materials and colors. (Some years after, I was driving around Ibaraki-ken, trying to find this building… It was on a minor road in a suburb of a small town. The building stood by the roadside with its eccentric sensibility).




This was her study of apartment unit typology. With the longtitudinal organization of the space.. it was a not-very typical way to arrange:

Her early house:

Another house:



A small shop:

The very first big building of her, Woman Dormitory in Kumamoto:

The dormitory where everybody has very small sleeping space and forced by space to be out in the common area all the time. The common space was arranged as it was an interior artificial street scape – the materials are very extreme with all kind of reflective and metal.


I believe she was also in this photo herself – right in the reflection.

After trying to understand her works, I became her follower, a fan… I was also fortunate enough to have a chance to get to meet her several times in different occasions… She always perplexed me..

In 1996 I was back to Japan briefly, and found the issue of Kenchiku Bunka Magazine (literally translation is Architecture Culture) which was the special issue on Sejima. (I also love the graphic of the issue very much.)


By then, here IMAS project in Gifu was still under construction – the model was very cute.


Also she was designing her world-famous Gifu Housing:

The diagrams of the units – a typical diagram of housing that finally used by all:


Tokyo Expo (unbuilt project)

A police box in the suburb of Tokyo. (At some point in my life, I was Sejima-san’s works hunter. I went to find the police box and found quite disappointed of how it was transformed).

The exhibition of her works:

Her entry of Yokohama Port Terminal Competition 1995:

Her little furniture:

Later she collaborate with Nishizawa Ryue, they covered AXIS magazine in 2000:

The making hands:

By then they were already very famous both in Japan and aboard. Again I was also fortunate to visit some of her private houses with her and had several chances to see her in my school once in a while when I was doing my Ph.D. in Todai.

Through these years, as a loyal fan, I have been following her works and publications — museums, houses, biennale of architecture 2010 – she never fails to surprise me, Sejima-san.

The latest magazine I received from Japan was CASA Brutus special issue on SANAA (thanks to Jump ^_^) :

The duo were photographed in Rolex Learning Center, she is always cool.


The interview to the two of them.

The magazine explains in detail of their works:



And what they are doing now, and will come up soon:

Also there are some images of the office in Tokyo– not much different from the first time I visited 17 years ago, just bigger. (Actually her office has been like this no matter where she moved!)

Recently I just owned a “Cat” (neko), a new piece of her design:

Looking forward to finally owning some ‘rabbits’ here in the near future!

Being a good and stunning architect as she is with any genders is already very difficult. Being a woman architect in Japan is perhaps a bit more. I have been following her for almost two decades, I bow. She is really a heroine who always ROCKS ! ^_^

せじまさん本当におめでとうございます!

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