How Japanese architect and India Design ID 2018 speaker Takaharu Tezuka became a legend in his home country

Nidhi Upadhyaya / August 21, 2018

“I had a western education and my time with Richard Rogers taught me how to analyse things rationally…”

“It is my destiny to be an architect and if I were to be reincarnated, I’d want to be the same again,” Takaharu Tezuka divulges at the very beginning of our conversation. While studying in the Musashi Institute of Technology in Tokyo, he discovered that design came instinctively to him and with encouragement from his professors, he decided to migrate to the US to explore the field further. The University of Pennsylvania alumnus later worked under British architect Richard Rogers where he incidentally picked up his signature colour, blue. He reveals that nothing in his life was ever planned and he went along the path as it unfolded, adding, “You can’t change your life, you just find a way to live with it.”

The project that gave impetus to their firm Tezuka Architects, which he runs with his wife Yui, was the Fuji Kindergarten in Tokyo. Rather than looking at magazines, books or studies, he finds that his inspiration stems from his kids. Observing them running around their table in circles is how the idea for the school came about. When asked to design the facility, he decided to create a circular form that encourages students to move around instead of enclosing them in box-like spaces.

Takaharu’s penchant for translating daily habits into spaces is what makes him unique. This attitude is also exemplified in one of their older projects, the Roof House. He fondly recalls the conceptualization of this family residence for a couple who loved spending time on the roof. Given their love for sitting out in the open, he thought it would be interesting to make a structure that incorporates a dining setup, kitchen, several skylights and even a shower on the rooftop. He adds, “This project changed the way we thought about architecture completely.”

While such projects seem radical in nature, their core concept emerges from a simple habit that the virtuoso inherently follows. He believes that sensitivity to our surroundings is a key skill every architect must have. If you can’t understand people, you can’t design for them. While it is impossible to analyse everything around, simply observing how they function can make a big difference. He elaborates, “You never know the reason why the birds are coming back to the same place, but you can observe that they are doing so all the time. That is the difference and sometimes you don’t need to know the reason, you just need to have the knowledge.” Continuing his account of how integral the neighbouring environment is to design, he stresses that human beings are part of nature, not standing against it.

Takaharu advocates that it is necessary for us to acknowledge that we are a part of the constantly changing mould that surrounds us. This outlook changes the way one can approach sustainable design. He asserts, “I think if you want to be environmentally friendly, just turn off the light and work in the day and when it’s dark you go to sleep. If it is cold, you wear more layers. I think that is a more sustainable way to live instead of using green architecture.”

In response to the growing inclusion of technology in design, he disputes that the nature of architecture doesn’t change. We live the same kind of life, sit on the same kind of chairs. While it is a tool that helps one design more efficiently, it is not a substitute for making models by hand. Good design, one that lasts, is created by a clear understanding of space, which cannot be understood on a computer. Interestingly, coming from an educational background with contradicting Japanese and American ideologies makes him different from local residents. He explains, “I had a western education and my time with Richard Rogers taught me how to analyse things rationally unlike our native culture which focuses more on emotions and feelings.” He further goes on to state that while everyone’s views are distinct, there is no difference between the people in the world. He approaches his projects the same way, designing for a more diverse mass instead of restricting himself to the local culture.

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