Jun 2nd 2023

How Friends, Internships, and Chicago Created a Tokyo Architecture Firm

Hotels in Japan. Exhibition space in Silicon Valley. Stunning homes in Tokyo. The architecture firm that Kazuya Katagiri (M.ARCH ’07) started is booming, and he thanks friends, employers, and Chicago for his success.

Katagiri first learned about Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in his childhood. Mies’s work crafting Illinois Institute of Technology’s campus, and especially the College of Architecture’s iconic S. R. Crown Hall, is well known in Katagiri’s home country of Japan. This history brought him to the United States after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in architecture from a Japanese university. “Considering that the city of Chicago is full of modern architecture—like a living history book—the environment that IIT and the city offered fascinated me,” Katagiri says.

Fifteen years after graduation, Katagiri recalls two milestones that shaped who he is today: an internship, and a friend and partner.

On a three-month summer internship at a New York firm, Katagiri took charge of a small art pavilion project in rural France, where he spent a month on site overseeing construction. “This experience guided and influenced me to start my own practice after graduation,” Katagiri says.

Katagiri met Luis Lopez Resendez (M.ARCH, ’07) soon after moving to Chicago, and the two forged a bond that lasts to this day. He left the U.S. for Mexico with Lopez Resendez a few months after graduation, and the two founded Lopez Katagiri Architects in Mexico in 2007. Starting a firm at a young age was a big change from school, however. “It was a totally different thing. I needed to learn how to communicate with carpenters, plumbers, electricians—to share our concept idea and let them carry the design into real life,” Katagiri says.

After four years and the construction of dozens of buildings, Katagiri decided to leave. “It was a great experience to begin my career in Mexico, but at the same time I started feeling the need to move to another chapter of my life,” Katagiri says.

A return to Japan was that next chapter. In 2010 Katagiri joined the renown Kengo Kuma & Associates in Tokyo and oversaw a museum project in the United Kingdom.

Four years later, he founded Katagiri Architecture+Design, which has since completed dozens of projects around the world. “All of those earlier experiences became the inspiration for my architecture,” he says.

The studio, under Katagiri’s guidance, integrated open spaces in Venture Lab Santa Clara for startup tech companies to flourish. Hotel Oriental Express Tokyo Kamat brings minimalism to the forefront, showcasing a steel mesh and glass exterior in a dense Tokyo neighborhood.

“I believe architecture is a space, a tool, to communicate with the surrounding environment, local tradition, and people. Through this communication tool, I want to travel around the world to seek the seeds of ideas for creating a harmonious relationship between place and space,” Katagiri says.