Founded in 1995 by architects Kazuyo Sejima (born 29 October 1956) and Ryue Nishizawa (born 7 February 1966), SANAA is world-renowned for its white, light buildings grounded in the architects’ Japanese cultural origins. Despite the white exteriors, their architecture is far from modernist; the constant incorporation of ambiguity and doubt in SANAA’s buildings is refreshing and playful, taking the reflective properties of glass and brightness of white to a new level.
Before founding SANAA, Sejima graduated with a Masters Degree in architecture from Japan Women’s University in 1981, going on to work at Toyo Ito and Associates before establishing Kazuyo Sejima and Associates in 1987. Sejima was subsequently named the Japan Institute of Architects’ Young Architect of the Year in 1992. Nishizawa was hired to work at Kazyuo Sejima and Associates after graduating from Yokohama National University in 1990, and together they founded SANAA in 1995. Two years later, Nishizawa founded Ryue Nishizawa and Associates, and as such the architects describe SANAA as being made up of three firms, coming together to discuss and critique ideas.
The two architects were the third pair to win the Pritzker Prize, in 2010. Capturing what SANAA's architecture represents, the Pritzker jury stated that "they explore like few others the phenomenal properties of space, lightness, transparency and materiality to create a subtle synthesis." Sejima has also commented on the firm’s consistent use of the color white as a method to avoid a hierarchy in their architecture, bringing light everywhere instead of being intensified in certain spaces. Their democratic diffusion and circulation of light also reflects on their aim to create feelings on continuity and community in public spaces, evident in one of their most recent buildings, Grace Farms, which won the Mies Crown Hall Americas Prize for 2014/2015.
This layered translucence and unclear boundaries between spaces can be seen in many of their famous works, including the Louvre-Lens Museum, completed in 2012; the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, completed in 2007; and the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa, Japan. These public areas also demonstrate SANAA’s ability to construct spaces that people can enjoy together, while still taking part in individual programs.
Check out more of SANAA’s completed works in the thumbnails below, as well as more coverage on the firm after those: