Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medalists in Architecture

Ryue Nishizawa, left, and Kazuyo Sejima co-founded their Tokyo-based firm, SANAA, in 1995. (Photo by Takashi Okamoto)

Japanese architects Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, co-founders of the Tokyo-based firm SANAA, are the 2019 recipients of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Architecture

Sejima studied architecture at the Japan Women’s University and launched her own practice in 1987. In 1995, Sejima partnered with Nishizawa to found the Tokyo-based firm SANAA (Sejima + Nishizawa and Associates). Nishizawa studied architecture at Yokohama National University, and in addition to his work with Sejima, has also maintained an independent practice since 1997.

Sejima and Nishizawa were jointly awarded the Golden Lion at the 9th Venice Architecture Biennale in 2004 and were recipients of the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2010, honoring their significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture.

They will give a public talk on April 12 at 3 p.m. in the Old Cabell Hall auditorium.

A citation for the Pritzker prize noted, “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.”

School of Architecture Dean Ila Berman agreed.

“In a contemporary world that so often lauds excess, SANAA’s highly inventive and carefully crafted works expose the immense power of restraint, precision and synthesis in design,” Berman said. “They create light-filled spaces of serenity and extreme beauty, that are sublime yet always inviting and open. There are few architects whose work is so truly exceptional and yet, simultaneously so highly accessible.”

SANAA’s major works include the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa, Japan; the Christian Dior Omotesando Building in Tokyo, Japan; the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York; the Rolex Learning Center at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in Switzerland; and the Louvre-Lens in France. Current projects include La Samaritaine in Paris, Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem and Bocconi University campus in Milan.

Their work is known for its carefully crafted connections between building and landscape, and its ability to provide people with meaningful experiences with their surroundings. Whether rural, as powerfully expressed in their Grace Farms project in New Canaan, Connecticut, or urban, such as The New Museum in the Bowery neighborhood of New York City, SANAA’s architecture has been described as creating a sense of fullness and experiential richness.

On the anniversary of Thomas Jefferson’s birthday, April 13 (known locally as Founder’s Day), the University of Virginia and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello join together to present the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medals to recognize achievements of those who embrace endeavors in which Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence and third U.S. president, excelled and held in high regard. These medals are the highest external honors bestowed by the University of Virginia, which grants no honorary degrees. For information on Founder’s Day, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medals and the 2019 recipients, click here.

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Caroline Newman

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Jennifer Lyon

Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello