With several large projects underway, both in his native Japan and abroad, Sou Fujimoto has been busy; which made his input all the more valuable for this year’s Judges’ Awards, the highest honours of the Wallpaper* Design Awards.

His wide-ranging experience and thinking is reflected in the breadth and depth of his architectural work. His recently completed House of Hungarian Music, in Budapest, will not only provide a long overdue place to learn and enjoy everything about the country’s musical scene and traditions, but will also serve as a hub for the local community to meet and enjoy music among the lush greenery of the surrounding park. In Japan, his design for a new university in Hida-Takayama (to be completed in 2024) is already drawing both local and international acclaim, and will help to propel this small, rural part of the mountainous Gifu Prefecture on to the world stage. He is also designing a learning centre for the University of St Gallen in Switzerland and has been appointed as the master planner of the 2025 Osaka Expo.

close up portrait of architect sou fujimoto in plain white background
Photography: Kyohei Hattori

Having received his own fair share of accolades since he started the Japanese architecture studio Sou Fujimoto Architects in 2000 (including several Wallpaper* Design Awards), Fujimoto believes these recognitions are vital to an architect’s career: ‘Receiving an award motivates me and makes me want to work even harder. Awards usually mean that someone appreciates your work.’

Softly spoken and often smiling, Fujimoto is modest about his own role as a professional in the architecture field. ‘As an architect, you need to collaborate not just with many stakeholders but also with existing surroundings. You need to understand the context, the cultural background and the history of the place. So we need to be very modest and listen to all these different voices,’ he explains. 

night shot under the roof at House of Music, Hungary by sou fujimoto
House of Music, Hungary. Photoghraphy: courtesy LIGET BUDAPEST, Palkó György

In his eyes, the main job of an architect is to take a rather complex situation and create a clear strategy forward. Basic research is always crucial in any project, but even more so is the inspiration he gets for conversations with key stakeholders on all the projects he is involved in. 

So what was he looking for as one of our judges? ‘I look at how the architecture is reacting to its context and how it brings value and makes the surroundings better. I also like to see something inventive, something new. Of course we should keep aesthetics in mind, too. Not just beautiful in the traditional sense of the word, but I like it when something might help to define a new kind of beauty or bring joy to people using the building or product.’

l’arbre blanc housing project in France seen against blue skies
Sou Fujimoto, Nicolas Laisné, Dimitri Roussel and OXO architectes collaborate on L’Arbre Blanc, a bright, white, sculptural residential scheme in Montpellier, France. Photography: SFA+NLA+OXO+DR

From this year’s nominees, he picked out the ‘Forite’ tiles, by Studio Plastique, Snøhetta and Fornace Brioni, as an example of something he considers to be good design. ‘Reinterpreting something as basic as a material is very important I think. And these tiles are very beautiful too,’ he says. The tiles, which are made from recycled glass from ovens and microwaves, come in two different sizes, and each features a unique pattern resulting from its individual recycling process. Fujimoto himself does not have a lot of experience with developing new materials yet, but it is an area he hopes to explore in the near future. The environmental impact of architecture is also an aspect of the profession he hopes to be able to push forward in Japan in the coming years.

Forite tiles by Studio Plastique, Snøhetta and Fornace Brioni, winner of Best Domestic Design in Wallpaper* Design Awards 2022
Fujimoto picked the ‘Forite’ tiles, by Studio Plastique, Snøhetta and Fornace Brioni in the Best Domestic Design category in the Wallpaper* Design Awards 2022. Photography: Oioioi

While he believes in calculating the environmental impact of architecture, he is perhaps more interested in creating spaces and environments that invite people to interact and experience nature and, as such, become more aware of their surroundings. He explains: ‘For me, changing mindsets through environmental or architectural design is something I consider very important.’ 

As for his dream project? ‘I am increasingly interested in how to integrate communities by thinking about architecture, the urban landscape and transportation as a whole. Not on a huge urban planning scale, but more on a small village or neighbourhood level.’ If anyone is looking for someone to design a small village, Fujimoto is sure to be able to deliver a reinvented version of a small community. Maybe a contestant for next year’s awards? §

the brutalist concrete Shiroiya Hotel by architect Sou Fujimoto
Fujimoto’s Shiroiya Hotel, 2020. Photography: Shinya Kigure
HIDA TAKAYAMA UNIVERSITY by Sou Fujimoto Architects

Hida Takayama University by Sou Fujimoto Architects

sleek white and minimalist house N in Tokyo

House N, Tokyo. Photography: Iwan Baan

OPEN GRID choices of tomorrow_WINTER_ENTRANCE

OPEN GRID choices of tomorrow. Photography: Sou Fujimoto Architects

Shenzhen Reform and Opening-up Exhibition Hall

Shenzhen Reform and Opening-up Exhibition Hall by Sou Fujimoto Architects and Donghua Chen Studio

 
sou fujimoto’s seprentine pavilion

The 2013 Serpentine Pavilion in London. Photography: Iwan Baan