Fumihiko Sano Portrait

Fumihiko Sano Interview

Japanese architect Fumihiko Sano chose to forego university in favor of an apprenticeship with a carpenter of traditional tea ceremony (sukiya-style) buildings. His unconventional choice has given Sano access to historical techniques and materials and, today, sets his work apart.

Who are you?

I am Fumihiko Sano.

What do you do?

As an architect, my job is to update the culture in various aspects through architecture.

Where did you grow up?

I was born in Nara, and spent my adolescent years in Kyoto. These two places are surrounded by nature and have made significant impressions on my life. There are many historical temples and shines there too.

Also, by making the decision not to study at a university, but under the carpenter of sukiya-style buildings, a type of architecture used for tea-ceremony rooms, I was able to work with real techniques and materials that support these historical architectures.

This experience has definitely played a role in shaping my career.


When did you take your first big risk in life?

I once tried to become a professional cyclist. This was a big decision for me to make because this was a challenge that I set for myself to regain my confidence.

Unfortunately, this goal was never accomplished but there were many things to gain from the process of trying. What I learned here has supported me through my career as an architect.

Why have you persisted with the path you’re currently on?

I have stuck to this path because I was able to find what I must accomplish through working with architecture.


Who is someone you’d love to work with?

Olafur Eliason, Anish Kapoor, and Yoshio Taniguchi.

What are you working on now?

I have been working on the renovation of an 400, 110 year-old traditional Japanese-style house in Kyoto and a 300gallery in Tokyo.

Other projects that I am involved in include installations I have made in collaboration with MUJI in Tokyo, a design for a shop in Paris and a contemporary tea-ceremony room in Singapore.


Who are a few people in your field who have influenced you?

Sotoji Nakamura, Arne Jacobsen, Alvar Aalto, and Mies van der Rohe.

What do you think is your biggest success so far?

My biggest success so far is the fact that MIWA was accepted in Paris. This store is like a private salon where the most conceptual and refined Japanese culture can be experienced, and many aristocrats and intellectuals have visited this place.

As a carpenter for sukiya-style architecture, I have worked with a variety of materials, techniques, history, and culture, and this project has given me the opportunity to think about the meaning of working as an architect and the difference between me and other architects.

Written by Carolyn Buszynski

Carolyn is a McGill University graduate currently living and working in Toronto.