MoMA Celebrates Japan’s Forgotten Architects

Behind every renowned architect lies a structural engineer. This pair work is explored in a book published by the museum.


WordsClémence Leleu

Kawaguchi Mamoru (architect and engineer) - Fureai Dome, Nagano Prefecture. Completed 1997 ©Photograph Kenta Mabuchi, Wikimedia Commons

The pair work between architects and structural engineers, which is particularly prevalent in Japanese architecture, is highlighted in a book released by the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA). Entitled Structured Lineages: Learning from Japanese Structural Design, the publication is orchestrated by Guy Nordenson, a structural engineer from New York and professor at Princeton University’s architectural school. 

A behind-the-scenes craft


In over 200 pages, Guy Nordenson complies archival images, interviews, essays and transcripts from round tables between specialists, notably those that took place in 2016 at MoMA during the exhibition A Japanese Constellation: Toyo Ita, SANAA and Beyond. This text provides the perfect entry point for understanding the work of structural engineers which consists of calculating the dimensions of walls, supporting beams and angles designed by the architect, in order to ensure the stability of the construction. These engineers play an indispensable role, especially in countries at risk of earthquakes like Japan, and also make it possible to construct buildings with complex shapes.

Structured Lineages: Learning from Japanese Structural Design reveals the most fruitful collaborations between architects and engineers on iconic buildings constructed in Japan since the end of the Second World War. To take an example, while the work of Kenzo Tange, who designed the concrete-clad Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Tokyo with its futuristic lines and glass ceilings, is famous the world over, the structural engineer who facilitated this project, Tsuboi Yoshikatsu, is less well-known. 

Tange Kenzo (architect) and Tsuboi Yoshikatsu (engineer) - Saint Mary’s Cathedral Tokyo (Interior view) Completed 1964 ©Wikimedia Commons

The art of transmission 


There is a particular focus on the work of structural engineers Kawaguchi Mamoru, Kimura Toshihiko, Matsui Gengo, Saito Masao, Sasaki Mutsuro and Tsuboi Yoshikatsu, allowing the reader to better understand their work and their relationship with architects. The notion of transmission is equally present in the book, however, which demonstrates how structural engineers train and influence young generations, and describes their own training with their former mentors. 

Far from being a theoretical text reserved for those well versed in engineering or architecture, this work allows the reader to understand the often invisible threads that underpin the creation of architectural works. The significant amount of space allocated to archive and contemporary photographs enables the reader to discover things they never knew, that will surely inspire some to go and discover these works themselves the next time they visit Japan.


Structured Lineages: Learning from Japanese Structural Design (2019) by Guy Nordenson, published by MoMa Publications (available only in English)

Kajima Design. Saito Masao (engineer). Izumo Dome Shimane (interior view) ©Photograph Kenta-Mabuchi, Wikimedia Commons

Murata Yutaka (architect). Kawaguchi Mamoru (engineer). 12th World Orchids Conference Pavilions, Kanagawa Prefecture ©Photograph by Kawaguchi Mamoru. Courtesy Kawaguchi & Engineers