The 2017 edition of the prestigious Moriyama RAIC International Prize was awarded Tuesday evening to Tezuka Architects for their Fuji Kindergarten project in Tokyo, Japan, receiving a standing ovation from the enthusiastic crowd at the evening gala. The Prize, created by Raymond Moriyama in 2014 to raise the international stature of the RAIC and the Canadian architectural profession, sets itself apart from the crowd by awarding any project in the world, regardless of locale, that has been occupied for at least two years and has had a profound and transformative impact on its community. The socially-minded award not only recognizes the positive impact that architecture has on its users, but also comes with a hefty monetary gift of $100,000 CAD and a custom-made sculpture by Canadian designer Wei Yew.

Takaharu Tezuka accepts the Moriyama Prize, image by Julian Mirabelli.

Takaharu Tezuka, who made the trip all the way to Toronto to accept the award, was surprised and humbled to have been selected above the three other shortlisted projects. "I just texted my wife to let her know", he said, shortly after receiving the announcement, "she said: good". The husband and wife team of Tezuka Architects was founded in 1994 in Tokyo, and received international attention with their Fuji Kindergarten project, a widely acclaimed school of 600 children that has been greatly successful since its opening. The couple is known for their various quirks: Takaharu always wears blue, while his wife, Yui, always wears red, and everything they share is coloured yellow. Their simplicity and unconventionality is reflected in their minimalist yet innovative architecture.

View of Fuji Kindergarten, image by Katsuhisa Kida.

Fuji Kindergarten was constructed in 2007 as an open-concept oval shape that defied conventional school design, with the intention that there should be no boundaries or constraints in a child's education in order to create an open and inclusive environment that fosters the students' social and learning skills. The building uses partial-height partitions and modular furniture to divide spaces between classrooms, while all walls can be opened up, and often remain open, to the central courtyard throughout the warmer months. The roof is accessible to all, providing a space where children can run and play as they wish, and also doubles as a viewing balcony during events. Three existing zelkova trees were incorporated into the design, piercing through the building where the children can safely climb.

View of Fuji Kindergarten, image by Katsuhisa Kida.

The Kindergarten has had an overwhelmingly positive impact on its students. Teachers report a high rate of success amongst the children, and an ease of use of the flexible spaces. As well, it has been discovered that autistic students almost never display symptoms when they are in the classroom; the openness and social environment, along with the constant background activity, keeps them engaged and focused on their tasks and peers. The Kindergarten is praised for its non-hierarchical egalitarian approach that affords a measured freedom to both students and teachers, an approach that is reflected in the success of its graduates, and its wait-list of prospective registrants nearly 3,000 students long. The building also occasionally hosts community events.

View of Fuji Kindergarten, image by Katsuhisa Kida.

While Tezuka was not expecting to take home the Prize, the jury was more than impressed with the building and praised its positive and transformative attributes. "It is one of those rare buildings...that in their utter simplicity and unfettered logic magically transcend the normal experience of learning", stated jury member Barry Johns. "This winning project should give all architects around the world reason for great optimism that humanity benefits enormously from the creation of such a deeply simple and yet sophisticated architecture of unquestionable redeeming value." The jury noted that: "This is an extraordinarily positive place—a giant playhouse filled with joy and energy, scaled to a broad range of the human condition."

You can learn more about the building by watching the video below, or by checking out a TED Talk by Takaharu focusing on the Kindergarten here.

The three other shortlisted projects for the 2017 Prize were:

  • 8 House, Copenhagen, Denmark by Bjarke Ingels Group

  • Melbourne School of Design, Melbourne, Australia by John Wardle Architects and NADAAA

  • The Village Architect - Shobac Campus, Upper Kingsburg, Nova Scotia by MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects

The jury for the 2017 Moriyama Prize included eight prominent architectural professionals:

  1. Monica Adair, MRAIC: Co-founder of Acre Architects and 2015 Recipient of the RAIC Young Architect Award.
  2. Manon Asselin, MRAIC: Co-founder of Atelier TAG and Associate Professor of Architecture at the University of Montreal.
  3. Bryan Avery, MBE: Founder of Avery Associates Architects, author, and lecturer. Deceased July 4, 2017.
  4. George Baird, FRAIC: Founding Principal of Baird Sampson Neuert Architects; former Dean of the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design at the University of Toronto; and 2010 Recipient of the RAIC Gold Medal.
  5. Peter Cardew, FRAIC: Founder of Peter Cardew Architects and 2012 Recipient of the RAIC Gold Medal.
  6. David Covo, FRAIC: Associate Professor of Architecture at McGill University, serving as Professional Advisor to the jury.
  7. Barry Johns, FRAIC: Jury Chair and member of the RAIC Foundation.
  8. Li Xiaodong, Hon. FAIA: Winner of the inaugural Moriyama RAIC International Prize.

Kids playing in the trees that are incorporated in the building, image by Katsuhisa Kida.

The Moriyama RAIC International Prize is awarded every two years and fields submissions from around the world: this year's prize featured applicants from 16 different countries across 6 continents. The award is among one of the most generous international architecture prizes in existence, and uniquely focuses on buildings in use and their transformative effects on the community.