Junzo Sakakura (1901-1969) was a Japanese architect, a disciple of Le Corbusier and the former president of Japan Institute of Architects. To the public, he is perhaps best known for having designed Japan’s national pavilion for the 1937 Exposition internationale des Arts et des techniques in Paris, which won him the Grand Prix thus, making him the first Japanese architect to be recognised at an international level. Subsequently, he was crucial in launching the modernist movement in Japan, with the Museum of Modern Art in Kamakura, Japan being a fitting example of his contribution to innovation in Japanese architecture.
Now, a free exhibition at the Maison de la culture du Japon in Paris (the MCJP), titled Junzô Sakakua : une architecture pour l’homme (Junzo Sakakura: An architecture for humans), pays homage to the work and life of Junzo Sakakura who throughout his life placed humans at the centre of architectural design. On view until June 8, 2017, the exhibition shows a large selection of plans, videos, models and photographs and is an excellent opportunity to discover (or rediscover) Sakakura’s wide-ranging contribution to architecture, city planning, public infrastructure and furniture design.
Junzo Sakakura’s formative years in Paris
Born in 1901 in the Gifu prefecture, Junzo Sakakura moved to Paris in 1929 after graduating from the Art History Department of Tokyo Imperial University (now University of Tokyo). He joined Le Corbusier’s Atelier in 1931 where he would work on several ambitious projects which focused on the social dimension of architecture, placing the needs of the building’s users and inhabitants at the forefront. It was in this context that Junzo Sakakura was introduced to the modernist movement, which in turn inspired the design of Japan’s national pavilion as well as his subsequent projects in Japan. The first part of the exhibition examines Sakakura’s formative years in Paris and his relationship with Le Corbusier as well as with other architects, intellectuals and creators who played an influential role in the development of his architectural philosophy.
Junzo Sakakura and Japanese architecture
After the 1937 Exposition, Sakakura returned to Japan in 1939, where he would start his own architectural firm and work on various significant projects before, during and after the Second World War. The exhibition examines Sakakura’s contribution to Japanese architecture, such as the Takashimaya’s department store in Wakayama, the Institut Français’s building in Tokyo and Residence Iihashi (where he aided Charlotte Perriand). The exhibition also examines how he was inspired by the prefabricated and demountable building designs of Charlotte Perriand and Jean Prouvé, and his role in post-war reconstruction and the modernist movement in his country.
In 1950, Sakakura won the competition for designing the Museum of Modern Art in Kamakura, the first public museum of modern art to be built in Japan. Subsequently, he played an important role in the construction of National Museum of Western Art, Le Corbusier’s only work in Japan. In the section “The Museum of Unlimited Growth”, the exhibition analyses how these two Japanese museums drew inspiration from Le Corbusier’s unrealised concept of Le Musée à croissance illimitée (Museum of Unlimited Growth) and the relationship between the two architects.
In the final section, the exhibition highlights one of the most active phases of Junzo Sakakura’s career in the 1960s when he worked on all kinds of projects that contributed greatly to the development of urban infrastructure in modern Japan. The exhibition analyses his concept of ‘purity of assembly’ which inspired his projects of urban construction and city planning, including train stations, city halls, office buildings and even furniture design. With a diverse collection of original blueprints, models, letters, images, videos and other documents, the exhibition Junzo Sakakura: Une architecture pour l’homme allows us to understand Sakakura’s work through the prism of his architectural philosophy that every building, whether it is a house or not, ought to be designed for its dwellers.
The exhibition “Junzo Sakakura: Une architecture pour l’homme” is on view at Maison de la Culture du Japon, Paris until July 8, 2017. Free admission. For more details, visit http://www.mcjp.fr/.