Yamamoto Builds Community | God's World News

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Yamamoto Builds Community

  • 1 Riken Yamamoto t
    Riken Yamamoto speaks near a model of a building at his office in Yokohama, Japan. (AP/Eugene Hoshiko)
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    Children visit the Hiroshima Nishi Fire Station. Yamamoto designed the building with lots of glass walls. (Tomio Ohashi)
  • 3 Riken Yamamoto Firefighters Tomio Ohashi t
    A firefighter trains at Hiroshima Nishi Fire Station. (Tomio Ohashi)
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    The Yokosuka Museum of Art, designed by Riken Yamamoto, in Yokosuka, Japan (Courtesy of Tomio Ohashi/Pritzker Prize via AP)
  • 5 Riken Yamamoto Overhead housing Shinkenchiku Sha t
    Yamamoto designed this housing project. Each house opens to a shared space with a lawn and trees. (Shinkenchiku Sha)
  • 6 Riken Yamamoto Housing Shinkenchiku Sha t
    A shared lawn helps neighbors connect with each other. (Shinkenchiku Sha)
  • 1 Riken Yamamoto t
  • 2 Riken Yamamoto t
  • 3 Riken Yamamoto Firefighters Tomio Ohashi t
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  • 5 Riken Yamamoto Overhead housing Shinkenchiku Sha t
  • 6 Riken Yamamoto Housing Shinkenchiku Sha t


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The Pritzker Architecture Prize is architecture’s most acclaimed award. The Hyatt Foundation, launched by Chicagoans Jay and Cindy Pritzker, bestows one prize annually to a living architect whose built work has contributed greatly to humanity. This year, the foundation honored Japan’s Riken Yamamoto. He earns the prize for a five-decade career of community-building buildings.

Yamamoto designs both private and public structures, including homes, museums, schools, airports, and fire stations. His buildings go beyond brick and mortar.

“He aims to dignify, enhance, and enrich the lives of individuals—from children to elders—and their social connections,” officials declared in the Pritzker citation. “For him, a building has a public function even when it is private.”

ArchEyes magazine quotes Yamamoto as saying, “Architecture is not about creating a space, but about creating relationships.”

Unity and fellowship are important in God’s purpose for humanity. (Romans 12:5) What a right use of one’s gifts to become known for building not only structures but also connections!

Yamamoto observed community connections while on trips he took early in his career to villages around the world. He examined the relationships of family units to broader communities. He also explored the idea of a “threshold” between public and private spaces.

Yamamoto’s Hiroshima Nishi Fire Station is nearly transparent. The front, inside walls, and floors are glass. The building invites the public to experience the everyday activities of firefighters. It encourages passersby “to view and engage with those who are protecting the community,” say Pritzker organizers.

“The idea was that the firehouse should be the center of the community,” Yamamoto says. “Not only their fire work but their daily life.” He describes firefighters training with ropes and ladders in a central atrium visible from outside.

Not only that, the see-through structure allows everyone a peek into how firefighters contribute to the community.

Another well-known design is a Japanese housing project. It features 110 homes in 16 multi-story “clusters.”

Yamamoto says most apartments are boxes inside a bigger box. He says the format makes it “very easy to create privacy, but very difficult to make a community.”

His solution was a tree-lined, grassy plaza. Buildings along its sides face into the green space and at one another. Entrance to the park-like space is via a residence or the communal room. The layout allows individual families to maintain privacy while enjoying connection too.

The 78-year-old is “amazed” to win the Pritzker at this point in his career.

“Soon I will be 79 years old,” Yamamoto says. “This prize is a big moment for me.”

Why? Architecture is about more than just providing shelter from the elements. Architecture creates space for living purposefully in communities.

For more about architecture, see Wild Buildings and Bridges: Architecture Inspired by Nature by Etta Kaner in our Recommended Reading.