Masato SEKIYA

Professional in Architecture Design.

About Masato SEKIYA

  • Winner of Architecture Design Award.
  • Specialized in Architecture Design.
  • Original Design.
  • Highly Creative, Diligent and Innovative.
  • All Designs
  • Architecture
Cliff House Weekend Residence

Cliff House Weekend Residence

Architecture Design


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Extended Interview with Masato SEKIYA

Could you please tell us a bit about your design background and education?
I was born in Uranouchi in Suzaki City, an area in the middle of Kochi prefecture which faces the Pacific Ocean. My mother’s family home is a house that was built in the Edo era, and consists of the motherhouse, with separate areas around it for the barn, storehouse, bathroom and dining room. The town is nestled amongst mountains and fields and has a view in the distance of the ocean. There is just sufficient room for privacy and friendliness between houses, and around the buildings is space for sunshine, greenery and wind. I always looked forward to visits here during spring and summer vacations. This is the place where my basic idea of what a residence should be was formed. This was a time and place where words such as ‘productivity’ and ‘industrialization’ had no relevance, and which provided a rich, human experience. After a boyhood in Osaka and Nara, I attended Art University in Tokyo, with the ambition of being a painter. My student days were very enjoyable. Every day, I immersed myself in work until all hours at the university studio, painting, erasing, repainting again and again, learning by trial and error, and discussing art with friends at our boardinghouse. In those years I studied a tremendous amount about space and color, and learned to express them in both two and three dimensions. Although I wanted to continue painting, I decided to apply for a job at a housing company, and thanks to some personal connections, I was able to do so. Of course, I was unprepared to work in construction or any other aspect of housing, but I was assigned to the design section, where I worked for the next twenty years. I set out to study and learned all that I could about the fundamentals of house construction, how the plans are drawn up, the legal aspects of construction and so on. I studied customer responses and developed presentation skills and learned about teamwork. I met numerous people during my years there and got to know the society we all live in. The company decided that I should specialize in large-sized residences, and I was given a lot of freedom for my designs. After ten years of this work, I felt stuck and unsure of how to develop myself and my designs. It was at this time that I was requested by my superior to spend some time helping the architect Yamamoto Ryosuke at his atelier. At the time, I had no idea how such architects work, and was a little anxious as to whether I could be of any help to such a famous architect. The experience was eye-opening, and exposed me to fresh ideas and inspiration. The job of designing housing was the same, but every time I went there, I felt as if I was learning all over again in new ways. The most surprising thing about it was the way that the architect designed the buildings. Without compromise, he drew and redrew over and over until he was sure that he had the design he wanted. It contrasted so sharply with my work, which was performed to constraints of time, and which I always felt pressure to rush and finish. I felt that what Yamamoto-sensei was doing was truly craftsmanship. The way that Yamamoto-sensei drew and erased, thought, redrew, discussed and decided until he was satisfied was familiar to me. I realized that that was the way I had painted at Art University. It was quite a revelation, and was the one that would teach me a new and better way to think about buildings and design them. I realized that I could get out of my stalemate and move onward and upward. It is not too much to say that from the day of that realization, I became a new person. The style of my designs changed utterly and every day was such fun. I felt like a fish out of water that had flipped back into the river. I danced along to the songs on the radio and enjoyed the summer days. Initially, Yamamoto-sensei told me that he would ‘borrow’ me for about three weeks, but in fact, I continued at his atelier for half a year. I had gone initially to lend my help, but in fact he taught me so much about how to look at building design and how to set about it that it ended up changing my whole life. That was the best summer of my life. For the next ten years, I continued in my job as an employee of a housing company, and every Wednesday on my day off, I spent at Yamamoto-sensei’s atelier, working and learning like an intern. When I was forty-five years old, Yamamoto-sensei asked me ‘Are you ready to go out on your own?’ and I made the decision to set up my own atelier and work as an independent architect. My identity began in Kochi Prefecture with my love for my mother’s family home, a traditional house in a rich natural environment, developed through my studies of colors and space at Art University, and was developed after years working with people of all walks of life at the housing company. At Yamamoto-sensei’s atelier, my mind was opened up to possibilities of present and future houses and I learned the deep emotion which comes from creating constructions with a spirit of discovery. These are the factors which have shaped the way I approach my residential designs. For the sake of those who have a desire to deepen and heighten their lifestyle through creating a building, I hope that my architecture will resonate with that person and their place in space, and create a place of comfort and enjoyment.
What motivates you to design in general, why did you become a designer?
As explained in the answer to the first question, I studied at an art university, hoping to become a painter. I began working at a housing design and construction company, and unwilling to lose the chance to create individual and original designs, I began my own architecture design atelier.
Did you choose to become a designer, or you were forced to become one?
I wanted to work in some field of design, and a confluence of circumstances led me in the direction of becoming an architect.
What do you design, what type of designs do you wish to design more of?
To date, my designs have been of residences and smaller office buildings, and I would like to design some larger architecture such as hotels and restaurants.
What should young designers do to become a design legend like you?
Never imitate other designers. Be strong-willed and strive towards your objectives, but at the same time be flexible. It is important to never lose your sense of what society is doing, what it wants and needs.
What distinguishes between a good designer and a great designer?
A great designer contributes to society through his or her designs, and is a designer that remains relevant through generations. I think a good designer satisfies his or her clients and makes them happy. It is hard to achieve both good and great designs.
What makes a good design a really good design, how do you evaluate good design?
In my opinion, a good design is a prototype that creates a design concept and system that contributes to society and spreads throughout that society. That design should not be just a form, but also should express a philosophy and a way of thinking. I believe that a design is praiseworthy if there is a philosophy behind it.
What is the value of good design? Why should everyone invest in good design?
Good design has the power to move people and society. People will invest in the possibilities presented by such prototypes.
What would you design and who would you design for if you had the time?
I would very much like to design hotels. I would like to further the prototype system I used in Cliff House, the work for which I have been given this award, not just in Japan, but in other countries, too.
What is the dream project you haven’t yet had time to realize?
I would like to try my hand at designing a facility for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, even if it is only a small one, and/or a pavilion for the 2025 Osaka Expo.
What is your secret recipe of success in design, what is your secret ingredient?
I have my own personal and original answer to the question of how to define ‘beauty’. All I will say is that there is a definitive relationship to the structure of the human brain, but to go into it precisely would take too long, so it would be difficult to go into it here.
Who are some other design masters and legends you get inspired from?
There are so many, such as the artists Gustav Klimt, Edvard Munch, Rene Magritte, Salvador Dali, Edouard Vuillard, and more. Among architects, I would name Louis Kahn, Tange Kenzo and Glenn Murcutt.
What are your favorite designs by other designers, why do you like them?
Glenn Murcutt’s ‘Magney House’ and Louis Kahn’s ‘Norman Fisher House’. These works have a definite and individual way of thinking and philosophy, and are magnificently harmonious with their environments.
What is your greatest design, which aspects of that design makes you think it is great?
In my opinion, the first work produced by my atelier, ‘Yuzaki House’ is my most important work. It is the house that has been most taken up by the media and the success of this work has contributed greatly to the subsequent success of my atelier. Additionally, 15 years later, the same client engaged me to design their vacation home, Cliff House, the work for which I have been given this award.
How could people improve themselves to be better designers, what did you do?
Never imitate other designers. Be strong-willed and strive towards your objectives, but at the same time be flexible. It is important to never lose your sense of what society is doing, what it wants and needs. That is the way I have always felt about my own work. Regarding architecture, it is important to see the structure of things. It is important to always ask yourself and look for answers to the question of what construction is.
Who helped you to reach these heights, who was your biggest supporter?
The staff who work for me in my atelier. They are much younger than me, so they serve as stimulation and contribute to various new ideas, approaches and ways of thinking.
What helped you to become a great designer?
The fact that I encountered good clients. They gave me the opportunities.
What were the obstacles you faced before becoming a design master?
Soon after graduating from art university, circumstances aligned to lead me to begin work for a housing company. The people in the organization found my patterns of behavior difficult to understand. The work of construction cannot be completed by one person. Cooperation from the people around the designer is vital, but in my case, there were very few people who could understand what I was trying to do, and that was an obstacle to me.
How do you think designers should present their work?
When I do a presentation to a client, I do not begin with CG and finely tuned intricate details. When the final stage of the design firms up, I will render it in CG, but I feel that to do it prematurely robs the client of the freedom to imagine and dream. I begin with sketches and simple plans.
What’s your next design project, what should we expect from you in future?
I have several projects on the go at the moment, and one of these is a small, three-story, steel-framed house for a family of three (parents and one daughter). On an extremely small piece of land, I have designed a curved exterior that rather than feeling cramped, gives an impression of width and openness.
What’s your ultimate goal as a designer?
So long as I have requests, I plan to continue to design for clients.
What people expect from an esteemed designer such as yourself?
They expect me to design systems that have never been seen before.
How does design help create a better society?
The created design becomes a prototype that can be used by more of society. For that to be accomplished, the structure of the design needs constantly to be flexible to follow the changes in society.
Which design projects gave you the most satisfaction, why?
Recently, it has been Cliff House. That is because I feel that I have been able to effectively control gravity.
What would you like to see changed in design industry in the coming years?
I feel that with the appearance of AI, the design process itself will change. Designers can improve their ability to communicate with AI, and serve as a portal between AI and the clients. We will be required to assess how we can coexist with AI.
Where do you think the design field is headed next?
In a variety of fields, due to AI, the base will be the optimization of multiple elements. The issue will be whether we are in rivalry with or coexisting with AI.
How long does it take you to finalize a design project?
Depending on the project, it can take anywhere between 6 months to several years.
When you have a new design project, where do you start?
I begin with a deliberate and careful investigation of the site. I look into the legal situation, restrictions and regulations, I look at the topography, shape and size of the piece of land, and I am especially careful to observe the surrounding environment.
Do you think design sets the trends or trends set the designs?
I feel that designs set trends. However, one more way to see it is that trends create an environment for designs to emerge into.
What is the role of technology when you design?
In the case of architecture, technology is directly linked to performance, so I believe it bolsters the function of design.
What kind of design software and equipment do you use in your work?
I draw sketches and perspective drawings using an iPad and software called Procreate.
What is the role of the color, materials and ambient in design?
The most important aspect of architecture is the space created, and I try to use materials in their most natural state. However, at times, by using color, I can achieve an overall sense of unity or an accent within the space.
Who is your ideal design partner? Do you believe in co-design?
For me, it is the young staff members at my atelier. When I am discussing things with them, we can come up with unexpected ideas. The support of young people is vital.
Which people you interacted had the most influence on your design?
The photographer, Kita Akira, who always takes the photographs of my completed works. His advice is always accurate.
Which books you read had the most effect on your design?
The writer Wassily Kandinsky’s work “Point and Line to Plane”.
How did you develop your skills as a master designer?
I improve my skills through every project, so long as I do not cease to make effort.
Irrelative of time and space, who you would want to meet, talk and discuss with?
I would like to meet Glenn Murcutt, from Australia. His works are truly amazing. I would like to ask him face-to-face about his methods for designing architecture.
How do you feel about all the awards and recognition you had, is it hard to be famous?
You are asking me how is feels to be famous? I am not famous, so I have to answer to this.
What is your favorite color, place, food, season, thing and brand?
My favorite color is blue. My favorite place is the ocean and rivers. My favorite food is sushi. My favorite season is spring. My favorite thing is eyeglasses. My favorite brands of eyeglasses is LA Eyeworks and THEO.
Please tell us a little memoir, a funny thing you had experienced as a designer?
A long time ago, when I was much younger, I was working as a designer for a housing company. This was before I went independent and opened my atelier. I became very ill and was hospitalized. I was instructed by the doctor to remain calm and stay in bed, but the staff of the company, and my younger colleagues, perhaps fearing that I was about to die and leave the work undone, came to my hospital room with plans, blueprints and material samples, asking me to make choices and decisions. One of these decisions was the shape of a handrail for a second-floor indoor balcony. The construction foreman brought a sketchbook, laid it on my bedcover and asked me to design the handrail. I was frustrated and unhappy at his intrusion and insistence, so with my pencil I angrily scrawled a curve on the plan. It was a perfect angry slashing shape. The construction foreman was delighted with the design and took it away. After I was released from the hospital, I visited the construction site and the handrail had been made exactly as I had drawn – three strong, curving lines. Such an original handrail made the clients very happy. They asked me how I could have thought up such an interesting idea, and I had trouble formulating a reply.
What makes your day great as a designer, how do you motivate yourself?
What motivates me to continue as a designer is to make efforts to gain greater recognition and achieve awards. I believe that this will also benefit my clients.
When you were a little child, was it obvious that you would become a great designer?
When I was a child, no one had the least idea that I would one day be a designer. I was not particularly skilled at drawing, and my parents were even worried about my lack of ability. When I was only about ten years old, I suddenly became much better at art and I went on to study oil painting at art university.
What do you think about future; what do you see will happen in thousand years from now?
I cannot imagine what the world will be like in a thousand years’ time, but perhaps the earth will be under the control of machines.
Please tell us anything you wish your fans to know about you, your design and anything else?
Under no circumstances do I push my designs on my clients. I make it a rule to carry out a project after thoroughly discussing the design and making sure that the clients understand every aspect of it. I will continue to see things from unique viewpoints and create original forms for systems, building new and interesting architectural designs.

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