Tezuka Architects’ Fuji Kindergarten wins 2017 Moriyama RAIC International Prize

Fuji Kindergarten, Tokyo, Japan, by Tezuka Architects. Photo by Katsuhisa Kida.
Fuji Kindergarten, Tokyo, Japan, by Tezuka Architects. Photo by Katsuhisa Kida.

The Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC) has announced Tokyo-based Tezuka Architects’ Fuji Kindergarten as the winner of the 2017 Moriyama RAIC International Prize.

Tezuka Architects’ Fuji Kindergarten in Tokyo, Japan, was selected by the seven-member jury following site visits to each of the four shortlisted projects. In addition to the Fuji Kindergarten, the finalists include 8 House in Copenhagen, Denmark, by Bjarke Ingels Group; the Melbourne School of Design in Melbourne, Australia, by John Wardle Architects and NADAAA; and the Shobac Campus in Nova Scotia, Canada, by MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects. The Prize received submissions from 17 countries across six continents.

“This is a prize that will continue to acknowledge the important work of transformative architecture worldwide and its designers,” said Raymond Moriyama, CC, O.Ont., FRAIC. “No matter the scale or size of the building, the Prize provides an opportunity to recognize design qualities which make a positive contribution. Society is evolving, we hope, toward more equality and social justice. Architects can provide leadership by creating inspiring buildings in service to a community.”

Moriyama added: “The four projects shortlisted are all special. Their designers have done extraordinary work, and I can see the passion, intelligence, heart, and hard work which went into them.” 

“What perhaps sets the Fuji Kindergarten apart is the sheer joy that is palpable in this architecture,” said Barry Johns, FRAIC, Jury Chair and a Trustee of the RAIC Foundation. “It is one of those rare buildings—comprised of a geometric plan, a single section, a roof, and a tree—that in their utter simplicity and unfettered logic magically transcend the normal experience of learning. This winning project should give all architects around the world reason for great optimism that humanity benefits enormously from the creation of such a deeply simple and yet sophisticated architecture of unquestionable redeeming value.” 

Fuji Kindergarten, Tokyo, Japan, by Tezuka Architects. Photo by Katsuhisa Kida.
Fuji Kindergarten, Tokyo, Japan, by Tezuka Architects. Photo by Katsuhisa Kida.

The Prize, which was established in 2014 by Canadian architect Raymond Moriyama along with the RAIC and the RAIC Foundation, consists of a monetary award of CAD $100,000 and a sculpture designed by Canadian designer Wei Yew. It celebrates a single work of architecture that is judged to be transformative within its societal context and reflects Moriyama’s conviction that great architecture transforms society by promoting social justice and humanistic values of respect and inclusiveness. Awarded every two years, the Prize is open to all architects, irrespective of nationality and location, and the winner is selected in an open, juried competition.

Located in Tokyo, Japan, since 2007, the Fuji Kindergarten is a one-story, oval-shaped kindergarten that can accommodate over 600 children running freely around its open-air roof. The building is designed to support the Montessori education method, which encourages independence, and for a climate that allows the children to be outdoors much of the year. The elliptical building, which houses classrooms, offices, and support spaces, surrounds an open playground that serves as the visual, functional, and spiritual focus of the school. The place for play is augmented by an elliptical upper deck that overlooks the playground and forms the roof of the school building. The rooftop itself becomes the play equipment for the children, some of whom run up to six kilometers a day. 

Fuji Kindergarten, Tokyo, Japan, by Tezuka Architects. Photo by Katsuhisa Kida.
Fuji Kindergarten, Tokyo, Japan, by Tezuka Architects. Photo by Katsuhisa Kida.

The classrooms and offices are open and defined only by partial-height partitions. Segmented sliding-glass walls permit a free flow of children and adults between inside and outside. The principal reports that the school’s approach encourages calmness and focus, including in children with behavioral disorders.

Three pre-existing Japanese zelkova trees were incorporated into the design of the school, emerging through the structure for children to climb on. The openings are protected by heavy nets, creating a soft cover on which the children can play, and through which they can look to the tree trunks and playground below. The architectural details were designed at the scale of a child, from the handrail to the door fittings and the size of the nets around the trees. Skylights, stairs, and a slide form close connections between the two levels of play.

The jury for the 2017 Moriyama RAIC International Prize consists of:

  • Monica Adair, MRAIC: Co-founder of Acre Architects and 2015 Recipient of the RAIC Young Architect Award.
  • Manon Asselin, MRAIC: Co-founder of Atelier TAG and Associate Professor of Architecture at the University of Montreal.
  • Bryan Avery, MBE: Founder of Avery Associates Architects, author, and lecturer. Deceased July 4, 2017.
  • George Baird, FRAIC: Founding Principal of Baird Sampson Neuert Architects; former Dean of the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design at the University of Toronto; and 2010 Recipient of the RAIC Gold Medal.
  • Peter Cardew, FRAIC: Founder of Peter Cardew Architects and 2012 Recipient of the RAIC Gold Medal.
  • Barry Johns, FRAIC: Jury Chair and member of the RAIC Foundation.
  • Li Xiaodong, Hon. FAIA: Winner of the inaugural Moriyama RAIC International Prize.
  • David Covo, FRAIC, Associate Professor of Architecture at McGill University, served as Professional Advisor to the jury.

In addition to the main CAD $100,000 prize, three scholarships of CAD $5,000 were awarded yesterday evening to students of Canadian schools of architecture, on the basis of a written essay on the topic: “The moment when you decided to become an architect.” The winners are Osman Bari, University of Waterloo; Alykhan Neky, Ryerson University; and Tanya Southcott, McGill University. 

“The student scholarships are equally important to raise the aspirations of up-and-coming architects,” said Moriyama. “I congratulate the three winners and wish them well in their pursuit of architecture as a worthy profession.”