You can take the designer out of Japan…

Yuto Fujii

Yuto became an Associate of the practice in June 2014. Yuto’s experience includes projects across our education and residential sectors. When not in the office, Yuto is involved with Japanese Junction, an international design forum.

  Email link to this page

London’s architecture community is a hugely diverse group of professionals, and designers come from across the world to learn and practice here. At Shepheard Epstein Hunter alone we have staff of eight nationalities, and speak a total of twelve languages between us. This melting pot of approaches and attitudes is not just visible in the work of our practice, but in the city’s broader architectural output. There are few places on earth which have such a vital creative environment.

As a Japanese architect, I was interested in whether my experience of learning and working in Japan might lead me to approach the day-to-day business of design differently to my UK peers, and also whether being in London would change my perspectives. Having made my home here, I became involved in Japanese Junction, a forum which started in Japan for architects and designers who had worked elsewhere in the world. The forum was set up to facilitate dialogue about how our work elsewhere had influenced our architectural practice.

I was approached to exhibit at the first exhibition held by Japanese Junction’s London group in 2017, and have since been involved in a second and third show. The first exhibition had just seven exhibitors, each of whom presented something which illustrated the experience of being Japanese and practising overseas. We wanted to provoke a debate about how differences in socio-cultural, historical and physical contexts have impacted the philosophy of Japanese designers. The bathroom brand Toto hosted the show, which was part of the London Festival of Architecture (LFA) programme. We picked the theme ‘Memories from home’, and the responses were amazingly varied in terms of their ideas and media. Defects House, for example, showed conventional technical drawings peopled by characters from Japanese fairytales, while other pieces explored experiences elsewhere in Europe.

Our second exhibition, which I co-curated, was larger – we issued an open call and had 17 exhibitors, including architects, students and freelancers – and we are currently organising this year’s exhibition. This one will have a more diverse group of exhibitors: six Japanese people living in London, and six non-Japanese who have an interest in our culture. We’ve paired them up together to create a dialogue which will then be expressed in a piece for the exhibition, which begins at 6pm on Thursday 4th October.

My experience with Japanese Junction has really challenged my existing ideas, developed through practice, about how you communicate architectural concepts. In a project environment, we’re generally proposing a scheme within a set brief in order to gain approval and support. In an exhibition it’s a much freer process – the exhibitors are sharing what they want to share, and the audience is as yet unknown.

I’ve been incredibly impressed by the extraordinary lengths the exhibitors and curators will go to to produce fantastic work within an exceptionally tight budget and timeframe – maybe this is down to the architects’ love (no matter where in the world they come from) of a challenging brief! We’ve also been struck by the interest that the sponsoring organisations took in the work. The people we approached were very helpful and more than willing to collaborate with us, perhaps because of the freer, more relaxed exhibition context.

The biggest lesson, however has been listening to the ideas of a very varied group of exhibitors and curating these to create a coherent exhibition which successfully communicates our distinctive Japanese worldview. No matter where we are, you can’t take the Japan out of the design.

Photo by Soma Sato