Takeo Yasui decided to open his own design firm directly after completion of the Osaka Club in 1924. Aged 40, his experience helped Yasui Architects and Engineers, Inc. get off to a strong start. Shortly after launch, three prominent Osaka businessmen, Tokushichi Nomura, Naomasa Kataoka and Kichirobe Yamaguchi entrusted Yasui with their business dreams. As well as liking his creative vision, they had a lot of faith in his practical design ability.
Takeo Yasui described his style as “free form”. He never tried to force a previous solution onto a new design, whether it was a home or an office building. As well as having innate creativity, he maintained a resolute spirit throughout his life, and took pride in demonstrating professionalism.
Here we look at how he made his way.
Takeo Yasui was born in Sakura-shi, Chiba Prefecture, in 1884. He was the second son of his father Nobutane, a major in the army, and his mother Yuu. He was the middle child of five siblings: first son Yoshinosuke, who later became a soldier; first daughter Sada; third son Shinsuke; and fourth son Katsumi. He attended elementary school and junior high school in Toyohashi-shi, Aichi Prefecture. His maternal grandfather Sakuzo Sayama was also a soldier.
After entering First Higher School in 1903, he studied oil painting and was influenced by Takeji Fujishima of the Hakubakai*, a radical group of Western-style artists. However, his personal goal was to design buildings.
* Hakubakai: A group of Western-style painters with new ideas, founded in 1896 by Seiki Kuroda.
Top: Top: Takeo Yasui (far-left back row) with student friends at Tokyo Imperial University in 1909
Bottom: Drawing of the house that was his diploma design (owned by the Department of Architecture, Graduate School of Engineering, the University of Tokyo)
Yasui joined the Department of Architecture, Technical College, Tokyo Imperial University in 1907 and lodged for three years in Nishikata-machi, Hongo with Masao Takamatsu, a classmate and lifelong friend. At Imperial University, the norm was to study Western architecture for three years, then design a building with a steel or reinforced concrete structure for the diploma. Yasui broke the pattern and submitted a wood-framed Japanese-style home, infuriating his benefactor, assistant professor Toshikata Sano. However, this concept for an original Japanese-style home that deviated from what was called the ‘samurai house’ tradition came to be highly regarded by Kensuke Morii, Togo Murano, Kingo Tatsuno, and others.
Yasui joined the Dalian-based South Manchuria Railway Co., Ltd. in 1910. During his time with the company, which lasted about 10 years, he married Kiyo Inoue, and they gave birth to their first son, Tadashi.
The South Manchuria Railway was diversifying its business and Yasui worked on many different kinds of buildings. It is said that everyone praised Yasui’s unique and outstanding design talent, which was seen as Orientalist.
Top: South Manchuria Railway Co., Ltd central laboratory, 1915
Bottom: Sketch of the residence of the chief customs commissioner, Dalian / Sketch of a proposal for a stained-glass window at the entrance to the residence of the chief customs commissioner, Dalian
After returning to Japan in 1919, Yasui joined Yasushi Kataoka’s firm, Kataoka Architecture Office. At that time, Kataoka was not just involved in Osaka’s major building projects; he was a central figure in Osaka business circles, and took the lead developing the architectural field, including the founding of the Architectural Association of Kansai (later the Architectural Association of Japan).
In 1920, Yasui was assigned to New York to collaborate with a local firm on a hospital plan. During this period of about six months, he toured architectural sites in other cities such as San Francisco, New York, and Chicago. It was a precious opportunity for him to absorb new thinking in architecture.
Bottom: Yasushi Kataoka (left front row), Tatsuzo Sone (right front row), Takeo Yasui (center) / Perspective drawing of the general hospital design for Kawasaki shipyard in Kobe (circa 1920)
One noteworthy event during Yasui’s time at Kataoka Architecture Office was his encounter with Tokushichi Nomura, a prominent businessman and founder of Nomura Securities. Yasui was put in charge of the design for the Dojima branch of Osaka Nomura Bank. The project was a success and, having built trust, Yasui was later chosen to lead the building of the Osaka head office.
Top: Proposal for the pattern of the carpet in the directors’ meeting room in the Osaka Nomura Bank Head Office
Bottom: Tokushichi Nomura and the Osaka Nomura Bank Head Office, 1924
One of Yasui’s projects while working for Kataoka Architecture Office was the reconstruction of the Osaka Club, which had burnt down in 1922. The unveiling of the new club also marked the beginning of Takeo Yasui Architects. The company initially consisted of seven staff in one room of the Nissay Building in Nishi-ku, Osaka.
Before long, Tokushichi Nomura appointed Yasui to design the Nomura Securities Head Office in Osaka, which was completed in 1926. The design was meticulous, with no corner or detail left unconsidered. The result was a powerful building with a gravitas befitting such an important financial institution.
Bottom: Photo commemorating the completion of the Koraibashi Nomura Building, taken on the roof, 1927
From left in the back row: Onishi, Shindo, Nishikatsu, Kawamura, Mikuni. Front row: Hamamura, Yasui, Ishihara / The Osaka Club, which prompted Yasui’s independence
From that point on, Takeo Yasui went on creating masterpieces which still exist today, including offices, homes, and factories. The Osaka Gas Building, one of Osaka’s defining works of modern architecture, was expanded with its North Building in 1966. Similarly, the Nihonbashi Nomura Building was expanded after the War and is still standing.
Other than being involved in the work of the Architectural Association of Japan, which was founded by Yasushi Kataoka, Takeo Yasui took a leading role in the field of architecture by guiding budding architects in Kyoto Imperial University and Waseda University.
Bottom: Osaka Gas Building, 1933) / Nihonbashi Nomura Building, 1930
The firm that bore Takeo Yasui’s name was renamed Yasui Architects and Engineers, Inc. in 1951. In 1955, he suddenly fell ill while returning from an inspection trip and died at the age of 71. After Yasui’s death, the firm was taken over by his son-in-law, Shoichi Sano (1921-2014).
Upon graduating from the Department of Architecture, Tokyo Imperial University, Shoichi Sano gained valuable experience as a building engineer for Japan National Railways. He brought the firm’s works together with a rational approach and a sensibility rooted in communities and the development of cities. This approach and thinking opened up many new opportunities for the company and lead to dramatic growth. Sano led the designs that extended the Osaka Gas Building and the Nihonbashi Nomura Building, both by Takeo Yasui. The resulting work imbued a sense of new resolution, combined with profound respect for the organization’s forerunners.
Bottom: Osaka Gas Building (extended in 1966) and Nihonbashi Nomura Building (extended in 1959), after their extensions