When Momoyo Kaijima took an unusual call from an Israeli number on the evening of 7 February, she couldn’t believe her ears at first and had to let the news sink in. Dan Shechtman, Council Acting Chairperson of the Wolf Foundation, had just congratulated Kaijima on winning this year’s
Wolf Prize in Architecture
together with her partner Yoshiharu Tsukamoto, who is a
Professor at Tokyo Institute of Technology,
The Wolf Prize has been awarded to outstanding scientists and artists every year since 1978. Previous laureates in the architecture category include greats such as Frank O. Gehry, Jean Nouvel, Peter Eisenman and David Chipperfield. With the addition of Kaijima and Tsukamoto, this pantheon of award winners now includes an architectural duo whose projects and publications,
according to the jury
, are characterised by a great sensitivity towards local contexts and the social impact of architecture.
Kaijima is only the third woman to receive the Wolf Prize in Architecture. She has held the position of Professor of Architectural Behaviorology at ETH Zurich since 2017.
Barking dogs from Tokyo
Kaijima grew up in 1970s Tokyo. Her family lived in a house in the city centre that was home to three generations in her childhood. “Despite being limited in space, our house accommodated entirely different lifestyles in a way that felt very natural,” she says. On her way to school, she saw first-hand just how quickly her native city was changing following the 1964 Olympic Games. These experiences and impressions are what first sparked her interest in architecture and urban development – and they still shape her work today. “Tokyo has always been one of my main sources of inspiration,” she says.
Kaijima studied architecture at Japan Women’s University and at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. She won one of her first competitions together with Yoshiharu Tsukamoto while she was still studying for her Master’s degree. The pair then went on to found Atelier Bow-Wow in 1992. Bow-Wow is a playful allusion to how different countries describe the sound of a dog’s bark. “It was important to us that we as people blend into the background. And we thought the name was funny,” Kaijima recalls.
The discovery of peripheral and interstitial spaces
Kaijima and Tsukamoto’s architectural style is strongly influenced by their engagement with their native city of Tokyo. In 2001, they published the highly acclaimed works
“Made in Tokyo”
, in which they describe the city that exists beyond the skyscrapers and shiny new structures. They focus on small houses and anonymous buildings that otherwise receive little if any architectural recognition, despite being typical of Tokyo.
Kaijima and Tsukamoto illustrate how even small and inconspicuous peripheral and interstitial spaces can provide an opportunity for encounters. “Just one tree in a small garden can enrich public life and help to promote a harmonious coexistence,” Kaijima says.
Through the case studies and examples in “Made in Tokyo”, Kaijima and Tsukamoto want to draw attention to the benefits of hybrid, flexible functionality in buildings that might at first glance not conform to conventional notions of aesthetics. They also highlight the role that even the smallest architectural interventions can play in the appropriation of urban space by its inhabitants.