Shoji Sadao, the architect behind many Fuller-Noguchi designs passes away at 92

STIR pays tribute to architect Shoji Sadao whose ‘self-effacing’ quality towards life left us with countless utopic concepts and built inspirations to chart the way ahead.

by Zohra Khan Nov 07, 2019

Japanese-American architect and author, Shoji Sadao, 92, whose close-knit relationship with Buckminster Fuller and artist Isamu Noguchi resulted in countless utopian concepts and built inspirations, passed away on November 03, 2019. He was the Honorary Life Trustee at the Isamu Noguchi Museum, and formerly served as the Executive Director of the Isamu Noguchi Foundation from 1989 to 2003. Filled with cherished friendships and unwavering passion, Sadao’s journey, personally and professionally was tremendous, with an immense contribution to architecture.

  • Sadao worked in close collaboration with Buckminster Fuller on a range of projects | Shoji Sadao | STIRtribute | STIRworld
    Shoji Sadao worked in close collaboration with Buckminster Fuller on a range of projects Image Credit: Dan Lindsay, Creative Commons
  • The Montreal Biosphère, formerly the American Pavilion of Expo 67 | Shoji Sadao | STIRtribute | STIRworld
    The Montreal Biosphère, formerly the American Pavilion of Expo 67 designed by Fuller and Sadao Inc. Image Credit: Eberhard von Nellenburg, Wikimedia Commons

A student of the school of architecture at Cornell, his association with Buckminster Fuller (casually referred to as Bucky) germinated in the early years of his career as the latter was the visiting professor at the University. One of the studio projects they did together was the Geosphere – a 20ft diameter structure built using wood lathing, hexagonal chicken wire and copper screens – where Sadao’s expertise in cartography made him lay out landmasses on the spherical surface creating a miniature earth.

The world on a Dymaxion projection | Shoji Sadao | STIRtribute | STIRworld
The world on a Dymaxion projection Image Credit: Courtesy NASA’s Earth Observatory, with modifications by Mapthematics LLC

The affinity of the New York-based architect, Sadao, in map-making gave way to the first collaboration between him and Fuller in 1954 - developing the Fuller Map, a projection of the world map onto the surface of a 20-face polyhedron. Later, the two got into a more formalised working relationship, and established the architectural firm Fuller and Sadao Inc., whose maiden project was the large and rather iconic geodesic dome designed for the US Pavilion at Expo 67 in Montreal.

The concept of the Tetrahedron City for Japanese financier, Matsutaro Shoriki, was another critical project by the firm. Comprising a buoyant metropolis in the form of a crystalline pyramid, the project envisioned 300,000 apartment units and a huge interior harbour, designed to efficiently solve urban issues of land acquisition and construction costs. The radical proposal however, never saw fruition.

Aerial perspective of the Tetrahedron City, Yomiuriland, Japan | Shoji Sadao | STIRtribute | STIRworld
Aerial perspective of the Tetrahedron City, Yomiuriland, Japan Image Credit: ©The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Gift of the architects

During the late 60s, Sadao joined hands with the critically acclaimed sculptor, artist and architect, Isamu Noguchi, working closely with him on various garden and landscape projects. Their intrinsic repertoire included the design of the Isamu Noguchi Museum in Long Island City, of which Fuller was also a part; the realisation of Moerenuma Park in Sapporo; as well as the Philip A. Hart Plaza in Detroit among many others.

Noguchi Museum, New York | Shoji Sadao | STIRtribute | STIRworld
Noguchi Museum, Long Island City, New York Image Credit: Wikist aces

Though the projects that the late architect handled in over more than six decades of his career fall on the cusp of architecture, art and technology, very little has been known about the actual scope of his work. One of the reasons widely speculated, is that perhaps the architect’s ‘self-effacing’ quality and his modest approach to life kept him from projecting himself publicly. Instead, he can be likened to a voiceless force whose boundless energy and dedication towards architecture left a silent but undeniable impression.

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About Author

Zohra Khan

Zohra Khan

A formal education in architecture combined with an avid interest in architecture journalism and design criticism led Khan to professionally venture into writing and research. She has worked in design communication for more than two years, generating content for mondo*arc india journal. When not writing, she kicks back by dabbling on social media for STIR.

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