Sou Fujimoto | Nature, space and complexity

Sou Fujimoto is often discussed in Architecture courses for his innovative design. In this article we´ll discover what works he built, what makes his design philosophy special and the inspiration he uses for his design.

In 2000, Sou Fujimoto founded his Tokyo and Paris based firm called Sou Fujimoto Architects. Due to his childhood in Hokkaido, his work is characterized through the relation between nature and architecture. Many of his projects include trees and a complex special concept. His innovative design philosophy is valued by professionals worldwide, making him one of the most influential architects of the present day.

What works did Sou Fujimoto build?

This is a brief overview over some of his most popular works.

Final wooden house | 2006

Sketch of the final wooden house

This house fulfills every function imaginable with the use of wood. Wood is very versatile and is often used in many parts of constructing a house. For the first time that I know of, an architect has created a house using only minimally processed lumber as modules which are fit in a specific order to design a refreshing variety of spaces. Opportunities for sitting or lying down or leaning against something are created with the use of a single size cross-section of wood. This primitive and yet complex approach to designing a space is fascinating and rare in architecture at the same time.

House N | 2008

Sketch House N floor plan

This is a multi-layered house that creates a combination of intimate private spaces and semi-public space. The house has three shells of concrete with openings of various sizes. Together, they create interesting visual connections between inside and outside, private, and public space. Protected by the outer shell, there are trees in the space closest to the street. Once fully grown, they will protect the interior from views from the outside and penetrate through the openings of the ceiling, increasing the notion that inside and outside, in this building, are in fact one.

Serpentine Pavilion | 2013

Sketch of the 2013 serpentine pavilion by sou fujimoto

The Pavilion Is an open structure of white steel profiles. These are organized in an grid with modules of cuboids with lengths of 40 and 80 cm. These create a large cloud which spans over the site and creates an interior that is separated only through the transparent structure. Wherever this structure becomes architecture, Fujimoto improves this grid by inserting polycarbonate plates which help shield the occupants from rain. Because of the translucent materials, they are barely noticed when it´s sunny. Inside, there is ample opportunity to sit down on plates of glass. Like in his Final wooden House, the fascinating thing about his serpentine pavilion is that one material creates seating accommodation, façade, the load-bearing structure and visual appeal. There is no inside nor outside, space and nature flows through the permeable membrane of the structure.

L´Arbre Blanc | 2019 

Sou Fujimoto Architects, Nicolas Laisné, Dimitri Roussel, Manal OXO architects

The tall residential tower in Montpellier is characterized by its balconies cantilevering like branches from a thick irregularly formed trunk. There is a sense of lightness of the balconies, secured only by small bars of steel. In its entirety, the structure conveys a sense of light materiality, with the white surfaces creating the illusion that the aluminum panels were in fact paper. The seemingly randomly positioned balconies of varying sizes shield each other from the harsh sunlight in the summer. Where an overlap of two branches is not possible, additional elements come into play, like on the upper floor.

Design Philosophy of Sou Fujimoto

Having grown up in Hokkaido, one of the four mayor islands that constitute Japan and the most rural one, has shaped Fujimoto´s perspective on architecture. During his childhood, he has often played in the forest, hiked the mountains and experienced nature.

When he then studies architecture, he realized that a forest and a city are very similar systems in that both are made up by smaller elements that can be experienced on a human scale.

This led Sou Fujimoto to incorporate trees and plants into his buildings. He believes that a house is a place not very different from a tree. By bringing the two of them together he creates an architecture that can be experienced like a forest. He likes the fact that this makes the space more complex and multidimensional, creating a coexistence of simplicity and variety.

One thing he loves about using trees in architecture is the unexpected of nature. The fact that one needs to take care of the tree as a homeowner is what makes life beautiful.

How Sou Fujimoto works in Context

As Sou Fujimoto´s firm is active both in Tokyo and Paris, the architect has to deal with two very different architectural contexts. In Paris, he believes respecting the cultural heritage of the city is really important. He therefore strives to use this fact to come up with new and creative ways to place his architecture in the urban landscape. It is often the case that he establishes a contrast between his architecture and the existing morphology.

In Tokyo on the other hand, creating a contrast is really difficult, because every building is already so unique, different and chaotic.

How other architects influence Sou Fujimoto

Going back to his childhood, Sou Fujimoto stumbled over a book about Le Corbusier at age 11 or 12. This grand master together with Mies van der Rohe were the first architects he learned about in University. Because of his interest in physics, Fujimoto saw parallels between the theories of Einstein and the innovative approach to architecture by the modernists. This relationship still fascinates him today. These architects form strong reference points to remind him where he stands and to reevaluate his position in architecture.

Fujimoto is also inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Kahn and Kazuyo Sejima. He is interested in the architecture of Sejima but finds it too organized, to consequent as he prefers a more complex architecture. He says that reality is full of unorganized and disorderly things and architecture must therefore reflect and newly interpret this relationship, not overlook it.

To summarize, Fujimoto learns a lot from studying historical architecture and responds to it in his design. He further develops the ideas of the past masters. In the same way, he hopes his architecture to become an inspiration for future architecture which can then draw from his understanding of architecture to find value in it for themselves.

How Sou Fujimoto works cross-culturally

Being able to work on two different continents allows Sou Fujimoto to compare the European culture with the Japanese. It is often perceived that these two cultures are very different from each other because of their historical background. Sou Fujimoto argues that this is not the case at all. He believes that they are very similar in their perception of privacy.

He admits that, in Japan, historically, there are thin sliding walls that can divide spaces with translucent layers. Furthermore, the tatami mat is often used as a measure for space in traditional Japanese buildings. In his architecture, Sou Fujimoto sometimes draws on these cultural nuances and tries to reinterpret them, but he never sees them as an absolute fixed condition for design.

The notion of engawa is also that is often something associated with traditionally Japanese architecture. However, such an “in between space” can be found in many countries so Fujimoto doesn’t see it as a particular uniqueness.

Working in two continents at the same time is fascinating for Fujimoto. He is always surprised and when he finds out about a new facet of life in Europe which is really interesting to him.


As we have seen, Sou Fujimoto Architects create intriguing spacial relationships, often in interaction with nature. His approach to using nature as a design aspect is interesting and much needed in times where more and more people move to cities that don´t have a lot of green open space available.

If you have found this article helpful and would like to learn more about architecture and design, check out this article about Pezo von Ellrichshausen on my website, I promise you won´t be disappointed.

Thanks for reading

~ Julian

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