An Interview With Architect Kazuyo Sejima – SANAA

by Andrea Carloni and Eleonora Spilli – June 2018

During the opening of “Biennale di Venezia” in June, we had the opportunity to meet and interview Kazuyo Sejima, who owned the Japanese architecture studio SANAA together with Ryue Nishizawa.

Some of their works revolutionize the space’s perception and mark a new way of seeing architecture. Their continuous research and experimentation was rewarded in 2010 with the profession’s highest onor, the Pritzker Architecture Prize.
At this Biennale, SANAA created a large spiral made by transparent lucite placed inside the Arsenale. Arup Studio has curated the dimensional level and I&S, an Italian company that makes acrylic materials, has produced the whole structure.

Kazuyo Sejima and his installation at "La biennale di Venezia" 2018 - Photo by Andrea Carloni - Progettospore

Let’s look at the plans of some of your projects like the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa and Glass Pavilion at the Museum of Art in Toledo. The functional spaces seem to “float” on the building’s perimeter. Each compartment is physically independent of the neighboring ones. The idea of creating physically independent volumes was born. How does this happen?

In the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art we decided to organize freely the exhibition boxes to stand independently one from another. Then we linked all the program with a glass circular space. The ring shapes the external form of the building and creates a set of relation to the variety of surroundings, without any hierarchies. With no front or back, the curved glazed perimeter opens gently into the surrounding landscape.
Regarding the Toledo Museum of Art, the program is organized through layers of transparent walls. In this way the circulation through museum spaces is enriched by the greenery of the surrounding park. For both these projects in-between spaces connects inside and outside in a soft way.

Glass Pavilion at the "Toledo Museum of Art" in 2006 - Photo by Ivan Baan

What are the main aspects of your aesthetics, and what is your research methods in your work?

We are interested in the relationship between nature and architecture. It is very important for us to visit the site and to grasp many different aspects from the overall environment before starting every project. Then we study and develop base schemes based on the surroundings, the program, the peculiarities of each situation. SANAA works hard during this process in order to achieve a project that suits and adds certain qualities to the specific reality we are dealing with.
Our research relies on physical models. They are very helpful to verify proportions and spatial relations throughout all the project.

21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art , Kanazawa 1999-2004 photo-©-SANAA

In your installation at the Mies van der Rohe Pavilion in Barcelona you have inserted a transparent spiral inside building. The existing has remained practically intact. But the surface, almost invisible, changes building’s perception of Mies van der Rohe. What is the role of light in your architecture?

Mies Pavilion is connected to the outside through a courtyard and it is a space where natural light and wind come in. First of all our installation was made with acrylic. It was meant to let people who came in to feel something new while keeping the quality of the space. I experienced a different perception than usual by mixing the architectural space. I usually see with the landscape reflected by transparent acrylic. Due to the difference in brightness produced by natural light, the clear panel gives diversity to the reflecting landscape. I think that our installation always created a landscape with different impressions.

Curator: Xavier Costa - Coordinator: Ivan Blasi - Acknowledgements: SANAA: Ichio Matsuzaa & Jean Phillippe Sanfourche, I&S srl: Massimo Ilarioni & Livio Spilli - Production: Fundació Mies van der Rohe

The installation you made for this Biennale di Venezia is a large transparent spiral. Can you explain how it was born? What did you want to communicate?

The theme of this Biennale was Freespace. Since our exhibition was decided to be set in the Arsenale, we did a variety of studies on what we can do. Among them, we decided to create overlapping reflections by winding acrylic in rounds. There are small windows in the Arsenale. Bringing the outside scenery into the inside space with a number of reflections, people looking at the indoor landscape would also mix in these different images. SANAA wanted to display such diverse landscapes at the Arsenale.

16 th International Architecture Exhibition, "La Biennale di Venezia" - FREESPACE. Photo by Andrea Avezzù. Spiral built by I&S