Any skilled architect will tell you that architecture is equal parts technical smarts and creative flair. After all, it takes more that mathematical know-how to create and design a structure that not only serves its purpose (and serves it well), but also pleases the senses and stands the test of time, aesthetically.
Any seasoned architect, however, will tell you that technique and creativity must be founded on passion and vision, for it is only upon this solid foundation that a structure becomes more than just a space — it becomes a sanctuary; a safe space that bridges the divide between the past and the future, today.
With 25 years of experience in the field of architecture, having started in 1997, Japan-born Moriko Kira is well-acquainted with the heart and the head of the business. The Amsterdam-based architect specializes in creating dynamic environments that are born out of respect: for the location, the locale, its history, and its community. Her strength lies in her ability to grasp the diversity of each commission, and to deliver a project that is technically sound, sturdy, and spirit-filled, to the last detail.
Kira chatted with Bridges and provided profound insight into her enriching ethos.
How long have you been in the industry and what is your core mission-vision, as an architect?
I have been working as architect since 1997, which makes it 25 years that I have been in the industry.
For me, architecture is a crossroads of past and future. As architect you are dealing with the memories, the customs, and the dreams of people, as well as the building technologies and the systems of the society which are all formed over long periods of time. At the same time, architecture — which we build today — will form the future and belongs to the future.
In essence, we are bridging the past towards the future, now.
What do you desire to achieve, in your practice?
I strongly believe that every person’s, every neighborhood’s, and every culture’s futures are authentic, and it all deserves an authentic space and place. On in which everybody feels a sense of belongingness, wellness and inspiration to carry on, with trust.
It is architect’s role and responsibility to create such a space and place.
By pursuing my work as an architect, making buildings and places, I want to inspire; to encourage and to feel that sense of wellbeing about going further towards the future, together.
What architectural style is central to your practice?
If you talk about the style in terms of physical forms and material, I do not have one. But there is a strong style to how I work.
I show respect for the condition and situation of the location; for its history, landscape, existing building, and its residents. I thoroughly study and try to understand all of that.
My style revolves around designing the future together with all the stakeholders, with a clear framework so that we can reach the goal. It is a goal that we share and reach, together — with efficiency, sufficiency, and durable quality.
For me, this participation leads to a better process and better results.
You’ve been travelling back and forth between Amsterdam and Japan since 1992. What made you choose Amsterdam as your second home base?
The dynamism and the vitality of Amsterdam are the factors that contributed to my choice. Dutch people and Dutch society are always moving and innovating. The society changes and new challenges emerge all the time. But Dutch people never turn their face away; they tackle the issues and move on. Their choices are not always right, but are never made in doubt. They go for it, and if it doesn’t work, they change direction and move on.
What about working in the Netherlands do you find complementary to your goals and beliefs, in the field of architecture?
One of the main reasons I work in the Netherlands is that Dutch people consider the living environment as the basis of their quality of life. From individual citizens to public authority, they take it upon themselves to invest; to make living spaces better for the common values and goals.
It is not only the top-down investment, but also the bottom-up investment that matters, here. It is not only in terms of the financial aspect, but also the investment of people; their time and their effort. People are ready to put their energy into the wellness of the community and the neighborhood.
As a follow-up to the previous question, what are the key similarities, culturally speaking, between Japan and the Netherlands?
The methods are very different. But the similarities include their diligence towards, seriousness in, and concentration on what they think important. Both countries also share the belief in prioritizing the wellness of all and of others, I believe.
At the core of your architectural practice is a deep understanding of culture and the needs of the community. How did this ethos come about, in your practice?
I am often involved in projects which are directly connected to the community and the group of residents. Therefore, to gain the trust of the participants and to guide them properly towards the goal they want to achieve, in the best manner possible, it is essential for me to perform well, as the architect. I must say, I very much enjoy being part of Dutch society and of their communities from different regions. The Dutch have a lot of admirable traits and virtues, in general, but what I appreciate most is their sense of fairness and openness.
Obviously, I don’t look Dutch, and I don’t speak Dutch perfectly. When I speak Dutch, I make a lot of mistakes, and I do have an accent. But I personally have never experienced any difficulties in communicating frankly and sincerely with the Dutch people.
These all help me connect with the community.
You are also a teacher of the subject. How important is imparting your knowledge to your overall practice? What is the heart of what you wish to pass on to your students?
When I first moved to Amsterdam, I felt the difference in the society, in relation to architecture. For instance, the system of urban design, conservation of old buildings, and the role of architects — these were all so different, between the Netherlands and Japan. It did not make sense to compare or to even try and learn from each other. But since then, history has unfolded and time has moved on, and both societies have changed a lot. Globalization has become the reality.
The Netherlands and Japan both invest their capital in real estate. They also share the same challenges in sustainability, the aging society, the problem of social isolation, the declining social service, the growing un-equality, and more. From an architectural point of view, we are really in new era. From the sustainability point of view, we are not an ecological industry. At the same time, we really need to create the new everyday living environment which addresses and answers the abovementioned issues.
These are just some reasons that knowledge must be passed on. The 20th century was the century of urbanization; the concentration of people and capital in the city. If we believe in the future and if we try to save the earth and nature, we must leave this city-centric vision for the vision which integrates the city, the countryside, and nature.
You could say, architects today must be able to integrate and deal with many more conditions and questions than architects of 30 years ago, as they build the future; but there is no clear answer, just yet, on how to do it. It is our challenge of the time.
Since last year, I have been a professor at Kyusyu University in Fukuoka, of the special program BeCAT. This is a special program where we go outside the campus to tackle the issues faced by the communities in Itoshima, near Fukuoka city.
Surrounded by sea and mountains Fukuoka is an attractive city of 1-million residents. In January of this year, the New York Times mentioned it as one the cities to visit in 2023. Kyusyu University provides the perfect context to experiment, with its unique professors from different specializations and different backgrounds. We challenge ourselves, our students, to widen our views and to collaborate in our thoughts — with the goal of connecting city, countryside, and nature. Over the last two years, we have been working in fishing villages, farming communities, and also in the city center of Fukuoka.
Even for us experienced architects, what we go through and learn in BeCAT is a new field, one in which we collaborate and work together with students who join us from all over the world.
What are some of your key projects in The Netherlands and in Japan? Which projects are you most proud of and why?
My key project in Groningen, The Netherlands is called Ebbingehof. It was realized last year and was one of the winners of the Dedalo Minosse international architectural award. It is a rental housing project with 40 apartments. It is a mix of social apartments, middle, and free sector, which is very important. It is also a cooperative ownership, financed by residents themselves, together with the municipality and the bank. The residents themselves manage the buildings and the ownership will not change. Therefore, it is possible to create an affordable and stable living environment for different sectors of society.
In Japan, one of my first projects was a group home for the elderly in Manazuru. This was, for me, the first time that I was involved in bottom-up development, and it has helped to set the course of my career as architect.
Any upcoming plans for the near future? What’s next for you, professionally?
As the next step of Ebbigehof, we are collaborating with Japanese initiative takers in Amsterdam to develop a housing building combined with a community program. We call it ‘Furusato House.’ The difference from Ebbingehof is that we aim to create a multicultural and multi-generational environment. Drawing inspiration from the Japanese way of life and cherishing shared moments of seasons and food, as well as respecting one another, we have named this concept ‘Furusato House.’ With this concept as our foundation, we hope to realize it within three years.