Junzo Sakakura (坂倉準三) is a Japanese architect and designer. His name is known and recognized internationally because he is one of the most important figures of the Modern Movement: the Museum of Modern Art in Kamakura (Japan), which he designed between 1950 and 1951, has thus dedicated a retrospective exhibition to him in 2019 showing the essential inputs he gave to Japanese and world architecture.
After studying art history at Tokyo Imperial University (now University of Tokyo), he decided to move to Paris as an important place for Modernism. He immediately joined the prestigious agency of Le Corbusier (1887-1965) at his arrival in 1931. This experience deeply left a mark on him: he stayed for eight years with the master and his team, focusing on the social dimension of architecture and human needs in large-scale projects.
During his Parisian time, he designed the Japanese Pavilion for the 1937 World’s Fair, for which he was awarded a Grand Prix. This building is a milestone in Junzo Sakakura’s career because its principles are what he defends during all his life: a true harmony between Japanese tradition and ideas of Modernity. In the monograph dedicated to Japanese architect, published by Kajimashuppankai (Tokyo) in 2019, his colleague and friend Charlotte Perriand (1903-1999) wrote about him: “Saka was a fighter, he fought all his life to materialize as his ideas as his ideals. […] Saka always wanted to be an architect in charge of building his time, but he did not leave traditions behind him – all these components made his quality, his strength, and my admiration.”
Upon his return from France in 1939, he founded his own architectural agency in Japan. He developed his career quickly and designed buildings after the Second World War, now iconic. The Osaka Stadium (1950) is a reference in sports buildings fields and the International House of Japan in Tokyo (1955) speaks for itself with its spectacular lines.
He is famous including for museum architecture. He is the first one to win the competition to design Japan’s first public museum of modern art located in Kamakura. This museum is a beautiful tribute to Japanese traditions according to its environment, gardens and materials. The Kamakura Museum of Modern Art has also clear Modern vibes and an obvious filiation with Le Corbusier’s works, especially with its piles on stones floating on the water. In collaboration with his mentor, he also designed the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo in 1959 following the same theoretical and material principles.
Social and human dimensions are true Ariadne’s threads in all of Junzo Sakakura’s works, so do his furnitures. He designed a limited number of models and he proposed numerous variations of them because he constantly wanted to improve them. He pays particular attention to woodworking, and his design is characterized by low seats and pure lines.
His early training years in the agency of Le Corbusier, where he met Charlotte Perriand, had a huge impact on Junzo Sakakura. His architecture and design are characterized by a great attention to form and function, an essential precept of Modernity which he adapted to Japanese aesthetics.