This prestigious prize gives voice and attention to meaningful Canadian shared values such as openness, respect, compassion, equality, and justice.

Each of the shortlisted projects is unique and original …. They are very much about an architecture that accomplishes a social mission as it encourages interaction among residents, students, or schoolchildren. These projects create a framework for people’s lives.

 – Michael Cox, RAIC First Vice- President, speaking at the Moriyama Prize press conference, September 19, 2017

… we have been blessed to have architects who are thinking about the big picture of what buildings mean in the lifeblood of a community.

– Michelle Obama, speaking at the 2017 AIA Conference in Orlando

Michelle Obama was echoing the sentiments of Michael Cox, and especially of Canadian architect Raymond Moriyama who, in 2014 established the Moriyama RAIC International Prize in architecture. The Moriyama Awards are distinct because they don’t reward the monumental qualities of architecture, or its photographic beauty. Instead the Prize celebrates architecture’s contribution to society, and the way users and casual observers can have intimate relationships with architecture and enjoy its benefits in their daily lives.


This year’s winning entry, announced at a gala, held on September 19 at the Carlu in Toronto, is an unassuming kindergarten building in Tokyo, Japan, designed by Tezuka Architects. The single-story structure does not carve a striking silhouette against the skyline. Instead, it establishes a human-scaled relationship with the ground plane and with the activities of the more than 600 students who attend the school.

On separate occasions, I had the opportunity to talk with both partners in Tezuka Architects, Yui and Takaharu, who are also husband and wife. My discussion with Takaharu took place on September 19, at the Carlu in Toronto, immediately preceding the gala at which his firm was announced as the winner. My discussion with Yui took place a few weeks ago, on November 30, after a talk she presented at the IIDEX show at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.


The prize-winning building is notable for the way it respects and expresses the qualities of space – interior and exterior. Architectural form is considered only to the extent that it defines the spaces and supports human activities. The school interior is an open environment, without walls, to encourage a sense of freedom among students and faculty. Even the exterior sliding glass doors are fully retracted for eight months of the year, allowing inside and outside to blend together. The roof is at minimum height, to maintain a child’s scale, and The canted wood roof is designed as an oval track, to encourage the children to run freely on its wooden surface, which they certainly do – in some cases, according to the architects, six km. per day. Because the building itself provides a playground, the architecture is always animated and dynamic.


At the press conference prior to the awards gala, Takaharu explained that the school was the result of teamwork, the product of an “amazing relationship with the client,” who shared the architects’ interests and goals. The building complements an educational philosophy that children flourish in an open, free and natural environment with a strong sense of community.1

 In my chat with Takaharu, I noticed that he combines a sense of light-heartedness with intensity – characteristics that are evident in his illuminating TED Talk.2 For example, as a mark of personal identity, his family’s clothing is colour-coded: Takaharu is blue, his wife and business partner Yui is red, the children are yellow (daughter) and green (son).3 On the other hand, the firm’s architecture is characterized by muted earth tones. Takaharu explained that colour, along with movement, should be added by people. The Tezuka approach is often unorthodox, but always focused on the users of the space.

Another curious fascination of the Tezukas is livable roofscape. The roof of the Fuji Kindergarten has been designed as an active landscape. Not only does it provide a running track for the children, it is also a garden, with existing, carefully protected trees protruding through it. In a subsequent project, The Roof House (2009), the architects designed an open-air living space, accessible by ladders, where the family can dine, lounge, cook, shower and enjoy the view. Takaharu confirmed that using the roof as a living space was satisfying for a couple of reasons – first, because it is give the family a greater sense of freedom, and second because it is an unexpected approach to creating domestic space – the more so because protective railings were not used.

I asked Takaharu about another well-known Japanese roof: the one covering the Yokohama International Passenger Terminal, whose undulating surface must surely be one of the world’s most poetic roofs. It is made entirely of ipe wood, the same material used in the Kindergarten roof, so I was curious to know whether he had been somehow inspired by that project. Surprisingly, Takaharu had been involved in the project, but not as an architect; rather, he acted as a translator for the terminal’s designer, Spanish architect Alejandro Zaera-Polo.


During her IIDEX address, Yui talked about the architectural practice she shares with her husband Takaharu, as well as the Fuji Kindergarten project, touching on many of the architectural goals and principles that Takaharu had mentioned in his September presentation. These elements included the importance of family and the necessity of close professional relationships with the client and the end users. Of prime importance to the design solution are the feeling of openness, freedom, movement and inclusivity. Equally important, narrative – the way that architecture forms an arena that enables a multiplicity of human activities – is always factored into design solutions.

In our conversation, I asked Yui about designing fun into architecture. It’s clear that both she and Takaharu intend their work to provide not just accommodation, but also pleasure. In the case of the kindergarten, it must have been necessary to understand a child’s sense of fun. Yui agreed that enjoyment and a degree of playfulness are necessary in order to create architecture that people can develop an affection for. “It has to be fun, otherwise, people can’t love it.” Children like to run in circles, she added, and the oval roof of the Fuji Kindergarten encourages them to do this as much as they want – rain or shine, since “people are waterproof.” Furthermore, noise is encouraged, not suppressed, since children are natural noise-makers.

The word “happiness” came up a few times in reference to the practice and the buildings they create. “When you do what you’re not supposed to do you feel good,” Yui said, referring to some of the rules and regulations that they were able to work around in creating their unique spaces.

Most important, Yui said, “Architecture isn’t artwork – it’s something that people live in.”

Many architects – perhaps most – will tell you that their greatest motivator is knowing or hoping that somehow their work will change the world for the better. Takaharu and Yui are more specific. They firmly believe that the world can be changed by changing the lives of children. By creating what has been acclaimed as the world’s best kindergarten,4 Tezuka Architects have shown they are fully committed to the task.


The striking thing about the Moriyama Prize finalists is that, while they were very different buildings with very different programs and in very different locales, each scheme adhered to a basic principle: The purpose of architecture is community. Architecture is for people to enjoy; it comes to life when it is populated; and it achieves its highest goal when it helps communities to grow and flourish.

The other three finalists were:

Bryan Mackay-Lyons finished his September press conference presentation by sharing his own design philosophy – words that we might all live by:

Love a small piece of the world, live your values, cultivate your own place in the world, and leave it a little better than you found it. – Bryan Mackay Lyons


In preparation for the Moriyama Prize Gala, the RAIC requested that The Right Angle Journal prepare a tour of Toronto for the four finalists. The three-hour tour avoided, for the most part, Toronto’s architectural icons and focused instead on the city’s unadvertised intimate sensory spaces and the social history that produced them.

Unfortunately, the tour was cancelled due to other commitments by the finalists, but The Right Angle would like very much to stage the tour at some future date. If you are interested in participating, please contact the editor at editor@therightanglejournal.com.


  1. from the Fuji Kindergarten project submission.
  2. https://www.ted.com/talks/takaharu_tezuka_the_best_kindergarten_you_ve_ever_seen
  3. [http://vestoj.com/red-blue-green-and-yellow/]
  4. In 2011, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) voted the Fuji Kindergarten the most outstanding kindergarten in the world. http://www.oecd.org/edu/innovation-education/centreforeffectivelearningenvironmentscele/celes4thcompendiumofexemplaryeducationalfacilitiesthejuryhasspoken.htm


Fuji Kindergarten
Credit: Tezuka Architects

Takaharu Tezuka addressing the press conference

T finalists, L to R: Takaharu Tezuka, Brian Mackay-Lyons, Kay-Uwe Bergmann of BIG and Katherine Faukner of NADAA