Travelling East: Interview with Kazumichi Umezawa of SEA

We regularly catch up with the designers and architects in our network, learning about their background, architectural aesthetic and their experience on our platform. As part of our series, we had a chance to catch up with Kazumichi ‘Kazu’ Umezawa, a Japanese architect who currently resides in Shanghai.

Born in Kanagawa Prefecture in Japan, a beautiful coastal city South of Tokyo, Kazu studied architecture and building engineering at Shibaura Institute of Technology. He went on to complete his Master’s at SIT — Shibaura Institute of Technology, Graduate School of Engineering in Tokyo Japan. Shortly after his graduation, he started working for Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects Japan, an award-winning firm with offices in Tokyo, New York, Shanghai, Abu Dhabi, San Francisco and New Haven. Having gained experience at this international firm, Kazu felt like it was time for a new adventure, which is why he took a year travelling across Asia and Europe, getting inspired by architecture, lifestyle, cuisine and traditions of different cultures.

After a year-long adventure Kazu moved to Shanghai. “This is a power city,” he explains, “where architectural design is in high demand. It’s a city of inspirations both from other architects and interior designers as well as young Chinese entrepreneurs. It’s the city of innovation.” However, as in many other buzzing cities, competition among architects is high. Kazu found employment at HMA Architects & Designers firm in Shanghai, where he spent 3 years working for international clients and soaking in the experience. After 8 years of working for architectural firms, Kazu decided it was time to venture out on his own, which is when he and his partner Leo Wang founded a project management company “SEA CHINA, Inc” in Shanghai and a design studio “SEA STUDIO, Inc” in Tokyo. “This is a perfect model for our team,” explains Kazu. “We big on projects in China, while completing the designs in Japan.” Check out SEA’s submission in the Obama Presidential Library competition we hosted last year. In fact, this is the competition that brought Kazu and his team to Arcbazar in the first place.



The team’s name “SEA” represents the vision of the company to always be a place of diversity – people with different talents, skills and backgrounds coming together the same way different rivers come together in a sea. This is a socially and environmentally conscious company that strives to contribute to the society through its work.

Inspired by such historical and powerful pieces of architecture as Notre-Dame in Paris, Ellora caves in India, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Forbidden City and Great Wall in Beijing China, Tofuku-ji temple in Kyoto, Kazu’s goal is to design a space that will both have emotional value and withstand the test of time.

“American architect Caesar Pelli and his Japanese partner Jun Mitsui had a big impact on my architectural aesthetic,” shares Kazu. “Having worked for their firm in Japan, I had a chance to study their work and design style.” Another person who helped shape Kazu’s approach to architecture is Hajime Yatsuka, his college teacher, whose historical approach to architectural design criticism inspires Kazu to this day.

We find Japanese architecture fascinating, so we had to use this opportunity to catch up with Kazu on the architectural trends in guggenheim-helsinki-moreau-kusunoki-architectes-dezeen-3the country. “Kusunoki, a young Japanese architect who is also a graduate of SIT, is currently largely impacting the architectural trends in Japan. The design of a curved roof is popping up increasingly here.” This year Kazu expects to see an increase in more decorative and formal design as the country is getting ready for the 2020 Summer Olympics. “Growing economy affects and transforms the static “Kawaii (meaning cute)” design style to a dynamic green decoration “Jungle” style,” he explains.

Kazu’s favorite piece of Japanese architecture is Tofukuji Temple in Kyoto and the Gallery of Horyuji Treasures designd by Yoshio Taniguchi. “Tofukuji temple represents the ideal balance between beautiful Japanese nature and architecture, while the Gallery of Horyuji Treasures is a stunning combination of an outdoor water design and the structure itself creating an elegant, comfortable space.”

It was an absolute delight to get to know Kazu better and we are looking forward to more projects from him and his team at SEA.

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