The Edge: Takaharu Tezuka, Designing the Best Kindergarten in the World.

April 28, 2015 5 min read


Editor's Note: His TED lecture has become one of the most popular Architecture Talks. It is also one of the most entertaining. My Skype chat with Architect and Professor Takaharu Tezuka was as inspiring and as fun. These are some of the things I learned during the interview:

  • Takaharu Tezuka and his wife, Yui, are a color coded Architecture couple. He always wears blue and she only wears red.
  • Design is in their genes  and they are on their way to establish a successful Architecture Dynasty.
  • Takaharu Tezuka's father was a huge fan of Oscar Niemeyer.
  • Professor Tezuka has been teaching at Tokyo City University for the past twenty years (with a couple of stints in Salzburg and Berkeley).

 Enjoy the much anticipated TED Talk and the chat with Professor Tezuka himself that follows.

Novedge: Tell us a bit about who you are and what you do.

Prof. Tezuka: My name is Takaharu Tezuka and I am an Architect. I run Tezuka Architects with my wife (she is my boss). I usually wear a blue t-shirt ( I have at least a hundred of them) and she wears red. We design all sort of Architecture ( Hospitals, Commercial Buildings, Residential..) but we are probably most famous for our Kindergartens. Tezuka Architects-TED TalkNovedge:  Did you always wanted to become an Architect?

Prof. Tezuka:Well, my father was an Architect, so of course I was exposed to Architecture early on. He built the house we lived in. When I started studying Architecture in college, I realized it came easy to me. It was a natural process. A path I kind of stumbled into studying both in Japan and abroad, working with Richard Rogers in London first, and eventually coming back to Japan where I now teach at Tokyo City University. For my wife it was different, she always knew she wanted to be a Architect (her father was an Architect as well; our 12 year old daughter is now showing signs of wanting to become one too….).

Novedge: If you didn't become an Architect you would have become ?

Prof. Tezuka: …….an accountant ? Let me think….. maybe I could have been an engineer, I like to use computers.

Novedge: You built "the best kindergarten I have ever seen", and you gave us an amazing tour on your TED Talk. Did your kids help you with ideas ?

Prof. Tezuka:Yes! They were the main Designers! When we started the project our kids were one and four years old. At that time they kept running in circle around trees. That is a simple instinct, all kids do it. When the Fuji Kindergarten Principal confirmed with me that was a common practice among  his students I thought we were on to something. Kids can go around the roof 47 times a day. Tezuka Architects- Fuji KindergartenNovedge: What are the most important things that a building that functions as a school should provide?

Prof. Tezuka:Everything is important. I can't really choose. It is all a matter of balance. Every part of the construction contributes to this dance: it could be the fact the kids can talk to each other across space; or the fact that there is not really a center (the shape is an oval) ; or the fact that the Principal's office is in the main entrance so that each kid has to say good morning when they come in.

Novedge: How did you work the trees inside the structure?

Prof. Tezuka:It is not easy to include a tree inside a structure. If you cut the root the tree dies, so you have to make sure the building floats on top of them. We built about 30 centimeters above the roots and the building itself is not actually sitting on the ground. Tezuka Architects-Fuji KindergartenNovedge: Your "Educational Buildings" definitely help educate their inhabitants. They do so certainly improving their motor skills, organizational skill and social skills.

Prof. Tezuka: Environment is an important teacher and Architecture is just one of them. If you look at a mountain you might not get much of a lesson out of it. But if you try and climb it you will. If Architecure allows you to interact with it, you can learn a lot.

Novedge: Is it important to work with the environment?

Prof. Tezuka: To explain what I think is important, maybe I should say something in respect to Japanese Architecture. Take sashimi for example.  A piece of raw fish meat, depending on the way it is cut (by a sushi master, with a very sharp knife) tastes completely different. If you get  a scientist to give you a scientific proof of what you are feeling you will be disappointed. Some things cannot be proven, just felt. The same goes for Architecture. When you are in different environments, the same thing can "taste" different. A house gives you a sense of protection and shelter, even if (like in many Japanese cases) the windows are made out of paper. The way you present something, has intrinsic qualities that cannot be explained. That is to me, the essence of Japanese Architecture. We don't change the environment, we try to understand the way to appreciate it,  just the way it is.

Novedge: Are you residential projects as playful as the ones you designed with kids in mind? 

Prof. Tezuka:It really depends on what family members we are dealing with. People that come to us though are aware of the kind of Architecture that we do, and they understand us. It's like having a specialty cake shop; we bake special kinds of cakes, and our customers know what they are buying.

Novedge: How big is your cake shop  Firm?

Prof. Tezuka:We have 21 Architects, two Principals (my wife and myself) and one secretary. We can be up to 30 people when counting the interns.

Novedge: What is your favorite material to work with and why?

Prof. Tezuka:I am happy to work with steel, timber, clay or concrete……I don't think it's good to be restricted to one material. Each Architecture should have different reasons to exist. If I am building a house next to a clay source, I might use clay. And If I am building a house next to a forest I should take advantage of the good timber. 

Novedge: Do you work mostly in Japan?

Prof. Tezuka:Yes, although we have a few international projects too. One in New Zealand, a couple in the Philippines, another one in Belgium.

Novedge: You have been a professor in the Architecture department both in Tokyo University and UC Berkeley. What did your students teach you?

Prof. Tezuka: I was a visiting professor in Berkeley for just one semester. That has to be a record right? Nevertheless I am now in my 20th year of my academic career. I wouldn't say I learn a lot from my students, but they give me a good  reason to be always current and do a lot of reading. They keep me on my toes! I also have to  look clever to them and I must back that up with real knowledge. It helps.

Novedge: What's your Design dream, what would you like to design and you didn't get a chance to design yet…?

Prof. Tezuka:Definitely an airport. Final answer! There is a reason why. I was trained as an airport Designer when I was working for Richard Rogers in London. I do know a lot about airports. 


Would you like to land in a future Airport designed by Tezuka Architects? Keep your fingers crossed for them and check out their websiteor their Facebook page.

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All images have been captured from TED.

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