by Sourabh GuptaApr 26, 2020
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.
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 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.
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.
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.