Shinohara Kazuo: Renowned Japanese Architect Gets His Due at Kemper Art Museum

Categories: Architecture

Courtesy of Tokyo Institute of Technology
Shinohara Kazuo, Tanikawa House, Naganohara, Nagano Prefecture, 1972‐74. Photo by Taki Kōji, c. 1974.
The Tanikawa Shuntaro House, designed in 1972 for a famous Japanese poet, combines tradition with innovation. Tanikawa desired both summer and winter houses, but it's the summer house that truly stands out. Shinohara dispenses with a floor, and instead leaves bare (and inclined) earth under the house, with only minimal furnishings. A steep peaked roof alludes again to traditional Japanese homes; natural and human forms meld together seamlessly.

Courtesy of private collection
Nishizawa Ryūe (architect) and Naitō Rei (artist), Teshima Art Museum, Kagawa Prefecture, Japan, 2010. Concept model. Acrylic, 39 3/8 x 23 5/8 x 7 7/8" (approx.).
Perhaps the sign of a great artist or architect is his or her legacy; despite his death in 2006, Shinohara's design philosophy has inspired any number of talented new architects working in modern-day Japan. But they are not slavish copyists of his styles; instead, they grasp his overall philosophy in their own designs without simply regurgitating his ideas. Nishizawa Ryūe's Teshima Art Museum explores Shinohara's philosophy of space with the fascinating, almost organic, design that both complements and confronts the natural environment. Simultaneously rounded like the surrounding hills yet starkly white in contrast to the colors around it, the structure is pierced with two "oculi" that let light into the interior. It is a masterful space, one meant to be experienced merely for the sake of it.

See also: Kemper's new video installation grapples with the dark legacy of violence

Shinohara did not design a single house in St. Louis, but his architecture can provide valuable lessons to a home-building industry in this city that seems addicted to faux-architectural styles placed out of context within ridiculously contorted and complex roof lines and appendages. Complexity does not always equal sophistication. More than ever, Shinohara's simple, elegant designs offer us a better way.

On the Thresholds of Space-Making: Shinohara Kazuo and His Legacy is on view at the Mildred L. Kemper Art Museum through April 20th.

Chris Naffziger writes about architecture at St. Louis Patina. Contact him via e-mail at

Location Info


Washington University-Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum

1 Brookings Drive, University City, MO

Category: General

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