In 1995, Kazuyo Sejima (born in 1956) and Ryue Nishizawa (born in 1966) founded SANAA, the Tokyo architecture studio that has designed innovative buildings in Japan and around the world. Examples of their, groundbreaking work include, among others, the Rolex Learning Center in Lausanne, Switzerland; the Toledo Museum of Art's Glass Pavilion in Toledo, Ohio; the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, NY: the Serpentine Pavilion in London; the Christian Dior Building in Omotesando in Tokyo; and the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa. The latter won the Golden Lion in 2004 for the most significant work in the Ninth International Architecture Exhibition of the Venice Biennale.

Born in Japan’s prefecture of Ibaraki (northeast of Tokyo), Kazuyo Sejima received a degree in architecture at the Japan Women's University. Upon completion of her studies, she began working in the office of architect Toyo Ito. In 1987, she opened her own studio in Tokyo, and in 1992, she was named the Japan Institute of Architects’ Young Architect of the Year in Japan. Kazuyo Sejima has taught at Princeton University, the Polytechnique de Lausanne, Tama Art University, and Keio University.

Ryue Nishizawa hails from the Kanagawa prefecture (just south of Tokyo), where he graduated from Yokohama National University with a master’s degree in architecture in 1990. He established the office Ryue Nishizawa in 1997, and he holds a professorship at Yokohama National University.

Together, Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa were awarded the Arnold Brunner Memorial Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2002, a design prize from the Architectural Institute of Japan in 2006, and the Kunstpreis Berlin of 2007 from the Berlin Academy of Arts. In addition, they have presented their work throughout the United States and Europe in exhibitions and as visiting lecturers at numerous prestigious universities.

Architectural Partners in Japan Become the 2010 Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureates

Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, partners in the architectural firm, SANAA, have been chosen as the 2010 Laureates of the Pritzker Architecture Prize. The formal ceremony for what has come to be known throughout the world as architecture’s highest honor will be held on May 17 on historic Ellis Island in New York. At that time, a $100,000 grant and bronze medallions will be bestowed on the two architects.

In announcing the jury’s choice, Thomas J. Pritzker, chairman of The Hyatt Foundation, elaborated, “This marks the third time in the history of the prize that two architects have been named in the same year. The first was in 1988 when Oscar Niemeyer of Brazil and the late Gordon Bunshaft were so honored, and the second was in 2001, when Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, partners in a Swiss firm, were selected.”

He continued, “Japanese architects have been chosen three times in the thirty year history of the Pritzker Architecture Prize—the first was the late Kenzo Tange in 1987, then in 1993, Fumihiko Maki was selected, and in 1995, Tadao Ando was the honoree.”

The purpose of the Pritzker Architecture Prize is to honor annually a living architect whose built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision and commitment, which has produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture.

Pritzker Prize jury chairman, The Lord Palumbo quoted from the jury citation to focus on this year’s selection: “For architecture that is simultaneously delicate and powerful, precise and fluid, ingenious but not overly or overtly clever; for the creation of buildings that successfully interact with their contexts and the activities they contain, creating a sense of fullness and experiential richness; for a singular architectural language that springs from a collaborative process that is both unique and inspirational; for their notable completed buildings and the promise of new projects together, Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa are the recipients of the 2010 Pritzker Architecture Prize.”

While most of their work is in Japan, Sejima and Nishizawa have designed projects in Germany, England, Spain, France, the Netherlands and the United States, under their combined name SANAA. The first SANAA project in the United States began construction in 2004 in Ohio—a Glass Pavilion for the Toledo Museum of Art. Completed in 2006, it houses the museum’s vast collection of glass artworks, reflecting the city’s history when it was a major center of glass production.

While that building was still under construction, the New Museum of New York City broke ground in 2005 at 235 Bowery. Completed in 2007, the building has been described as “a sculptural stack of rectilinear boxes dynamically shifted off-axis around a central steel core.”

The jury citation specifically mentions these projects as well as two projects in Japan: “the O-Museum in Nagano and the 21st Century Muscum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa.” The Ogasawara Museum was one of their first projects together.

The De Kunstline Theater and Cultural Center in Almere, the Netherlands, and a more recent Rolex Learning Center in Lausanne, Switzerland are also major projects of SANAA. Other works in Japan include the Naoshima Ferry Terminal and the Christian Dior Building in Tokyo.

In Essen, Germany, in 2006, the Zollverein School of Management and Design was inaugurated in a new building designed by SANAA on an historical coal mining site. The building is described as an oversized cube (approximately 114 feet in each dimension) with an unusual arrangement of openings and windows of four different sizes.

The Serpentine Pavilion in London, their first built project in the United Kingdom, was in place for three months on the gallery’s lawn—the ninth such commission in the Serpentine’s series of pavilions. In France, a branch of the Louvre Museum in Lens will comprise some 300,000 square feet of construction.


In Valencia, Spain, SANAA provided a unique expansion solution to IVAM (Valencian Institute of Modern Art) in which their existing building housing eight galleries will be completely enclosed by a translucent skin covering an entire block, and thus creating new indoor/outdoor public spaces between the building and the skin. The proposed skin is a light weight perforated metal that allows daylight, wind and rain to pass through. Construction has not yet begun.

Both architects have extensive lists of completed works and projects as individual architects.

Upon learning that she was being honored, Kazuyo Sejima had this reaction: “I am thrilled to receive such an honor. I would like to thank the Pritzker foundation, the jury members, the clients who have worked with us, and all of our collaborators. I have been exploring how I can make architecture that feels open, which I feel is important for a new generation of architecture. With this prize I will continue trying to make wonderful architecture.

And a similar reaction from Ryue Nishizawa: “I receive this wonderful prize with great humility. I am very honored and at the same time very surprised. I receive and understand this prize as encouragement for our efforts. Every time I finish a building I revel in possibilities and at the same time reflect on what has happened. Each project becomes my motivation for the next new project. In the same way this wonderful prize has given me a dynamic energy that I have never felt before. I thank you very much.”

The distinguished jury that selected the 2010 Laureates consists of its chairman, Lord Palumbo, internationally known architectural patron of London, chairman of the trustees, Serpentine Gallery, former chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain, former chairman of the Tate Gallery Foundation, and former trustee of the Mies van der Rohe Archive at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; and alphabetically: Alejandro Aravena, architect and executive director of Elemental in Santiago, Chile; Rolf Fehlbaum, chairman of the board of Vitra in Basel, Switzerland; Carlos Jimenez, professor, Rice University School of Architecture, principal, Carlos Jimenez Studio in Houston, Texas; Juhani Pallasmaa, architect, professor and author of Helsinki, Finland; Renzo Piano, architect and Pritzker Laureate, of Paris, France and Genoa, Italy; and Karen Stein, writer, editor and architectural consultant in New York. Martha Thorne, associate dean for external relations, IE School of Architecture, Madrid, Spain, is executive director.

In addition to the previous laureates already mentioned, the late Philip Johnson was the first Pritzker Laureate in 1979. The late Luis Barragán of Mexico was named in 1980. The late James Stirling of the United Kingdom was elected in 1981, Kevin Roche in 1982, Ieoh Ming Pei in 1983, and Richard Meier in 1984. Hans Hollein of Austria was the 1985 Laureate. Gottfried Böhm of Germany received the prize in 1986. Robert Venturi received the honor in 1991, and Alvaro Siza of Portugal in 1992. Christian de Portzamparc of France was elected Pritzker Laureate in 1994. Frank Gehry of the United States was the recipient in 1989, the late Aldo Rossi of Italy in 1990. In 1996, Rafael Moneo of Spain was the Laureate; in 1997 the late Sverre Fehn of Norway; in 1998 Renzo Piano of Italy, in 1999 Sir Norman Foster of the UK, and in 2000, Rem Koolhaas of the Netherlands. Australian Glenn Murcutt received the prize in 2002. The late Jørn Utzon of Denmark was honored in 2003; Zaha Hadid of the UK in 2004; and Thom Mayne of the United States in 2005. Paulo Mendes da Rocha of Brazil was the Laureate in 2006, and Richard Rogers received the prize in 2007. Jean Nouvel of France was the Laureate in 2008. Last year, Peter Zumthor of Switzerland received the award.

The field of architecture was chosen by the Pritzker family because of their keen interest in building due to their involvement with developing the Hyatt Hotels around the world; also because architecture was a creative endeavor not included in the Nobel Prizes. The procedures were modeled after the Nobels, with the final selection being made by the international jury with all deliberations and voting in secret. Nominations are continuous from year to year with hundreds of nominees from countries all around the world being considered each year.


Read Eve Blau's Essay

For more than 15 years, architects Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa have worked together in their collaborative partnership, SANAA, where it is virtually impossible to untangle which individual is responsible for what aspect of a particular project. Each building is ultimately a work that comes from the union of their two minds. Together they have produced major commissions, such as the O-Museum in Nagano and the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa (both in Japan), the Glass Pavilion at the Toledo Museum (Ohio), De Kunstline Theater and Cultural Center (Almere, the Netherlands), the New Museum of Contemporary Art (New York, NY), and the recent Rolex Learning Center (Lausanne, Switzerland).

The buildings by Sejima and Nishizawa seem deceptively simple. The architects hold a vision of a building as a seamless whole, where the physical presence retreats and forms a sensuous background for people, objects, activities, and landscapes. They explore like few others the phenomenal properties of continuous space, lightness, transparency, and materiality to create a subtle synthesis. Sejima and Nishizawa’s architecture stands in direct contrast with the bombastic and rhetorical. Instead, they seek the essential qualities of architecture that result in a much-appreciated straightforwardness, economy of means, and restraint in their work.

This economy of means, however, does not become a simple reductive operation in the architects’ hands. Instead, it is an intense and rigorous investigation anchored in hard work and steely determination. It is a constant process of refinement, where each client’s program is fully investigated and multiple design possibilities are explored through numerous drawings and models that check every alternative. Ideas are considered and discarded, reconsidered and reworked until only the essential qualities of a design remain. The result is a deft union of structure and organization, of logical purpose and precise beauty.

It may be tempting to view Sejima and Nishizawa’s refined compositions of lightness and transparency as elitist or rarefied. Their aesthetic, however, is one of inclusion. Their approach is fresh, always offering new possibilities within the normal constraints of an architectural project as it systematically takes the next step. They use common, everyday materials while remaining attuned to the possibilities of contemporary technology; their understanding of space does not reproduce conventional models. They often opt for non-hierarchical spaces, or in their own words, the “equivalence of spaces,” creating unpretentious, democratic buildings according to the task and budget at hand. One example is the Almere project in the Netherlands, with its many simple classrooms and workshops, all presenting privileged views of the sea. Another example is the Rolex Learning Centre in Lausanne, a space to be used by students day and night. Sejima and Nishizawa originally conceived it as a multi-story building, but, in the course of their deliberation, it became a single yet vast, flowing space. The building’s many spaces (library, restaurant, exhibition areas, offices, etc.) are differentiated not by walls but by undulations of a continuous floor, which rises and falls to accommodate the different uses, while allowing vistas across this internal “landscape for people.”

The relation of the building to its context is of utmost importance to Sejima and Nishizawa. They have called public buildings “mountains in the landscape,” believing that they should never lose the natural and meaningful connection with their surroundings. The New Museum in New York feels at home in the rough Bowery area of the city. Their glass-enclosed museums, such as the Glass Pavilion at the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio, blur the borders between inside and out, providing direct and changing views to the surroundings.

While Sejima and Nishizawa have not published theoretical treatises to date, they are cerebral architects, whose work is based on rigorous investigation and guided by strong and clearly defined concepts. The appointment of Kazuyo Sejima as the director of the 2010 Venice Architecture Biennale is a tribute to this.

For architecture that is simultaneously delicate and powerful, precise and fluid, ingenious but not overly or overtly clever; for the creation of buildings that successfully interact with their contexts and the activities they contain, creating a sense of fullness and experiential richness; for a singular architectural language that springs from a collaborative process that is both unique and inspirational; for their notable completed buildings and the promise of new projects together, Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa are the recipients of the 2010 Pritzker Architecture Prize.


Jury Members

Lord Palumbo, Chair
Alejandro Aravena
Shigeru Ban
Rolf Fehlbaum
Carlos Jimenez
Juhani Pallasmaa
Renzo Piano
Karen Stein
Martha Thorne, Executive Director

Ellis Island

The recorded history of Ellis Island dates back to the 1600s when it was called Gull Island and only about 2½ acres in size. At various times, it has served as a fort, munitions deport, and detention center, but it is most famous for its role as a port of entry for 12 million U.S. immigrants. The 27-acre landmass we see today, with its main reception building and other support facilities, has its roots in the early 20th century.

In 1897 after the first immigration facilities burned down, an architectural competition was held between five firms, including McKim Mead and White, to create a new and more complete immigration center. New York firm Boring and Tilton designed the winning entry. The architects, who trained in the U.S. and Paris, proposed a main reception building in a French Renaissance style, along with other buildings for a kitchen, laundry, and hospital. They also took into account the landscape plan, calling for the creation of a new island to the south, a ferry slip, and extensive ornamental plantings laid out in a Beaux Arts style.

A year later, The New York Times magazine announced the ideas for the new building: “The immigration station on Ellis Island ... will be a palace 386 feet in length and 162 feet in width, with towers rising to the height of 120 feet at their apexes of gilded copper, and entrance arches 40 feet to the keystone. Owing to the tides, the first floor will be eight feet above the present level of the island, so that on calm days the structure will mirror itself on the smooth waters of the bay. The main body of the building will be of red brick, the corners of the towers and buildings and the framework of the windows will be a broad ashlar of gray limestone, while the roofs will be of green copper.” The most impressive room in the building was the registry room, which went into service in 1900. It measured 200 feet by 100 feet and had a grand, 56-foot vaulted ceiling. In 1905-06 a third island, measuring five acres in size, was created.

In 1954, Immigration Services closed Ellis Island. In 1965, the Island was declared part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument and was opened to the public on a limited basis until 1984. During the past 30 years, Ellis Island has undergone major architectural and engineering efforts funded by both public and private entities, and today the main reception building is the Ellis Island Immigration Museum. This May, the 2010 Pritzker Architecture Prize ceremony and dinner will take place at this significant and historic site.


Read Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa's Ceremony Acceptance Speech

Read Tom Pritzker's Ceremony Speech

Read Lord Peter Palumbo's Ceremony Speech

Read Martha Thorne's Ceremony Speech


Ellis Island

Ceremony Highlights

Full Ceremony