The Meaning of Being Human: An Interview with Takaharu Tezuka

The Japanese architect communicates how refreshingly simple yet resoundingly important his ideas are in the creation of truly beneficial spaces 

Woods of Net

Woods of Net

Japanese architect Takaharu Tezuka doesn’t wear black. Instead, he always dons cobalt blue. He doesn’t expound on big, abstract ideas. Instead, he talks about life experiences. One such experience was having children. He has two, and they’re now teenagers. But back in 2007, they were preschoolers and the perfect subjects of study to understand the end-users of his most famous project, Fuji Kindergarten. 

Tezuka, who helms his eponymous studio with his wife Yui, observed that his children would always run around in circles when playing, so he designed a circular kindergarten that would enable children to do just that. The iconic kindergarten pushes the boundaries of preschool design in other ways: structure becomes playground as students race on the roof deck, clamber onto the trees that pierce through it and dangle in hammocks that double as safety nets wrapping the trees.  

‘Coming from outside the pedagogical field gave me a fresh perspective,’ says Tezuka, who was recently in Singapore to speak at workplace furniture manufacturer Steelcase Inc.’s ‘In the Creative Chair’ talk series. One doesn’t need to specialise in kindergarten design to create a great kindergarten, because, as the architect notes, ‘all human beings are the same. You have to make spaces comfortable; you need to understand the behaviour of people.’   

Understanding people is Tezuka’s gift. Rather than making objects, he’s interested in shaping environments that enhance natural human behaviours and relationships. ‘Our life is an accumulation of experience,’ he explains. At Fuji Kindergarten, classroom layouts change monthly and the children rearrange the furniture themselves, so he made furniture pieces out of lightweight Kiri timber. This insight also informed other designs: ‘When we designed the Chigasaki Zion Christian Church, we discovered church is about community. The congregation eat lunch together, have discussions over the table, then they have to rearrange the chairs for other programmes,’ he explains.   

A born storyteller, Tezuka speaks in anecdotes and metaphors that make his ideas instantly clear. For example, the saying ‘architecture acts like a well-forged knife’ refers to the architect’s role in crafting spaces that allow people to enjoy, rather than retreat from, their natural environments — even in extreme climates. ‘An iPad is no different from a Japanese teacup’ emphasises the co-existence — rather than conflict — of tradition and technology. 

‘The future doesn’t need to look technological; it becomes invisible as it eases the flow of even simple actions,’ Tezuka elaborates. Case in point is the Steelcase Verlay table we’re seated at during the interview, where a tactile timber tabletop subtly integrates USB and power sockets. T’his is craftsmanship melding with future thinking’, highlights Maria Bourke, Steelcase’s communications director in Asia Pacific. 

Yet it’s crucial that the architect doesn’t lose sight of his original role, which is perfectly described in the publication (Tezuka Architects: The Yellow Book) that Tezuka hands me as the interview ends. ‘Nowadays, we have technology to do whatever we want. But there are much bigger issues that we haven’t discussed as architects. These include asking what it means to be a human being.’ 

Text / Jingmei Luo
Images / Katsuhisa Kida/FOTOTECA

Asahi Kindergarten

Asahi Kindergarten

Asahi Kindergarten

Asahi Kindergarten

Engawa House

Engawa House

Engawa House

Engawa House

Fuji Kindergarten

Fuji Kindergarten

Roof House

Roof House

Roof House

Roof House

Sora No Mori

Sora No Mori

Sora No Mori

Sora No Mori

Woods of Net

Woods of Net