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Could these be the next new masters of Japanese architecture?

Japan has produced half a dozen Pritzker Prize-winning architects. Design is in the blood. But who is the next generation of design talent from this country – we take a look at the names you should know now and enjoy the beauty of the work they’re producing.

  • Hakui Nursery by Kentaro Yamazaki.

  • Kentaro Yamazaki.

  • Hotel Koe by Suppose Design Office. Photo by Kenta Hasegawa.

  • Suppose Design Office.

  • Aēsop Sapporo by Case-Real.

In a country plentiful of globally-acclaimed architects that include heavyweights such as Tadao Ando to Kengo Kuma – it is unsurprising to see that Japan continues to boast some of the most innovative, emerging architects.

It can be said that the term architect now refers to practices including integrated furniture and product design and even property development firms. These extended business arms ensure a further consistency across projects, a result of a growing need in today’s ever-changing landscape.

We look at three of Japan’s leading designers whose individual approach informs a conscious output. From Kentaro Yamazaki’s empathic and community-focused builds, to Koichi Futatsumata’s material and longevity-driven concepts, to Makoto Tanijiri and Ai Yoshida’s minimalistic design approach.

Suppose Design Office | Ai Yoshida & Makoto Tanijiri

As an architectural duo, Ai Yoshida and Makoto Tanijiri are Suppose Design Office. Founded in 2000, the architecture and design studio now operates two offices across Tokyo and Hiroshima. Spanning residential, retail, office, hotel and exhibition design, their extensive collaborator network ensures multi-layered, contemporary builds.

The duo favour light-filled spaces that utilise natural materials and will commonly use wood. Their design approach then achieving original and striking structures, paired with a minimalistic interior navigation. It’s this aim for spatial simplicity that Tanijiri explains, “Due to an abundance of information in society, we need to clearly express our intention through design.”

Suppose Design Office approaches each project individually with an aim, “to think outside the box and what creates a feeling of “new” for each project at all times.” The aforementioned new can be found in the studio’s multi-residential apartment project New Acton Nishi in Canberra, Australia that resulted in a collaborative process with three local architecture firms; Fender Katsalidis, OCULUS and March Studio.

“Due to an abundance of information in society, we need to clearly express our intention through design.” – Makoto Tanijiri, Suppose Design Office

In 2017, Suppose Design Office founded its property development company Vantage Point Properties, and construction company Twenty First Century Builders, following a total in-house approach and ongoing search for the unprecedented. Tanijiri explains, “To not only design architecture but to design everything, has only become even more important for our society.”

Most interestingly, the Tokyo office includes a communal and sustainable restaurant-café; an ingenious idea to combine both a place for welcoming clients and guests and for staff to have daily access to healthy meals. Without slowing down, upcoming projects include the studio’s own hotel in Hiroshima, with plans to combine its office with a café and gallery.


Suppose Design Office

CASE-REAL | Koichi Futatsumata

Founded in 1998, Koichi Futatsumata first started his eponymous studio, and interior and architecture firm CASE-REAL in Fukuoka, and now helms two offices based in Fukuoka and Tokyo with projects spanning across both residential, hospitality, retail and exhibition design. His locally-award-winning design for Aēsop Sapporo Stellar Place referenced the surrounding snow-covered mountainous landscape in the interior’s textured finish of freestone. It is this attention to detail in locally-sourced materials and their design values, that provide a multi-layered conceptual design approach for CASE-REAL.

Operating two practices, Koichi Futatsumata’s eponymous studio focusses on product and object design while interior and architectural projects are led by CASE-REAL, with both retaining visual consistency in a clean and minimalist aesthetic. He says, “The approach is different from project to project, but the works have a consistency from my own taste.”

“I usually seek design which has appropriate tensions and can lead people naturally to various feelings; it is best that the design itself has this atmosphere.” – Koichi Futatsumata, Case-Real

Case-Real’s design for Fukuoka-based bar and shop Wine & Sweet Tsumons, presented a minimalist wood and concrete structure with a sloped roof and asphalt courtyard wall. The wall anticipates an integrated planted façade – presenting the one-storey structure as a contrast among the multi-storey commercial area. Futatsumata explains, “Architecture and design have a big influence directly to the human mind. So I usually seek design which has appropriate tensions and can lead people naturally to various feelings; it is best that the design itself has this atmosphere.”

Futatsumata’s projects extend locally and internationally, with upcoming projects including; “A renovation project for a hotel that is looking for a new style as a business hotel, house and villa projects, a renovation project of a traditional architecture, and some projects of product design.”


CASE-REAL | Koichi Futatsumata Studio

Yamazaki Kentaro Design Workshop | Kentaro Yamazaki

Architect Kentaro Yamazaki’s socially-conscious and community-driven architecture sees him as an emerging architect to watch. And he has already been awarded the AR Emerging Architecture Award in 2015. Yamazaki’s design foundations lie around the space’s anticipated users and how human-interaction and experience can be enhanced.

After working at Irie Miyake Architects, Yamazaki began his own practice Yamazaki Kentaro Design Workshop in 2008 in an unlikely and precarious time during the global financial crisis. Yamazaki approaches his building designs with an empathic understanding of the end-user and explains, “I always try to consider locality and context in my architecture, and the execution of these things becomes my overall architectural theme.”

It was after Japan’s Tohoku Earthquake in 2011 that he focused solely on community-driven, sustainable design as an integral responsibility. One restaurant build, Itoman Gyomin Shokudo, embraced the power of the local community by being hand-built from local Okinawan stone with local masonry workers, along with the proud assistance of local residents.

“I always try to consider locality and context in my architecture, and the execution of these things becomes my overall architectural theme.” – Kentaro Yamazaki, YKDW

He explains, “Nowadays, more than ever, I feel that the stakeholders are just as important as the building itself. It is up to architecture to dig up and express the regional and cultural contexts that the stakeholders hold deeply. The success of many projects is dependent on being able to understand and empathise with the client’s vision of the future.”

Yamazaki Kentaro Design Workshop’s upcoming projects include a nursing care facility in Chiba that will incorporate sharing and communal spaces for both the elderly and local children. This facility will serve as a diverse space that encourages social interaction between the various generations. Yamazaki explains, “….in this home, the users help each other. With this project, I am designing a novel yet nostalgic type of architecture that helps foster human relationships and a sense of community.”


Yamazaki Kentaro Design Workshop

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