Boundless Architecture // Masayuki Sono
Imagination, Innovation, and Creation
Masayuki Sono is a founding partner of Clouds Architecture Office, an idea-driven multidisciplinary practice established in New York in 2010. Masa was born in Hyogo, Japan and lived in New Jersey for several years during childhood. He holds master’s degrees from Kobe University and the University of Washington. He has taught at the Pratt Institute and lectured at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Tokyo University, and the American Institute of Architects (AIA).
Staten Island 911 Memorial
Masa has worked on projects ranging from national museums to custom residences to public artworks. He gained worldwide acclaim for his winning design in the international competition for the 9/11 Memorial in Staten Island, which was awarded the AIA New York Public Project of the Year. His other awards include first place in NASA’s Mars Habitat Competition and AIA interior design honor awards for St Mark’s Bookshop and CRS Studio. Masa has even worked on space exploration projects in collaboration with NASA on Mars Ice Home and with ANA-JAXA on Avatar X Lab. He has also taken part in exhibitions at MoMA PS1, SFMoMA, and Mori Museum, among others.
Iroha : What projects are you currently working on? What have you most recently completed or plan to do in the near future?
Masa : We are currently working on several residential projects around New York and also working with the city to upgrade the Staten Island 9/11 Memorial site with the addition of the new Survivor Tree from the World Trade Center site. There is a theater complex(010 Building) in Hakata opened in December 2022, which will be our first major ground-up project in Japan. We have also been working with startup company Serendix to develop a prototype of a 3D-printed habitat, which is not only technically innovative but also has social and environmental visions for the future. The application of 3D-printing in architecture is still in its infancy and has numerous challenges, but we are learning so much and are excited for its potential. Since I always wanted to contribute to society in both the US and Japan, both of which I consider homes, I am grateful to have these opportunities. In the evenings, we are also working on a new speculative proposal as part of our continuing exploration of extraterrestrial architecture, which we believe can also be applied and contribute to Earth.
Iroha : What are your thoughts regarding Asian hate and Asian glass ceiling issues? In the rise of Asian hate crimes, is your community (local, artist, business, etc.) affected in any way? How do you feel about that, and are you involved to address the issue? If so, please tell us how. Alternatively, you can also talk about Asian glass ceiling issues or any other cause you personally support.
Masa : I have not been directly affected by Asian hate, but this question reminds me of the discrimination that erupted in times of turmoil such as during the 1992 LA riots and the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII. Having lived in the US on and off since the ‘70s, I have seen how the perception of Asian people and culture has improved over time thanks to our predecessors' priceless contributions. Also for instance, after the 9/11 attack, people came together instead of being divided in a time of crisis. I feel that if people attacking Asians had the chance to have even one good Asian friend or find an Asian cultural figure they respect, that may change their actions. I am hoping we are still on the right track for improvement and that what each of us provides can be part of the collective contribution. I do admit there are various difficulties that exist, such as the glass ceiling. But on the bright side, there have been outstanding pioneers in our field, including Minoru Yamasaki (architect of the former World Trade Center), I.M. Pei (the Louvre's glass pyramid), and Maya Lin (Vietnam Veterans Memorial) to name a few. They give us hope that the ceiling is not actually bulletproof.
Iroha : Based on your background, do you have any advice or a message for young people who want to follow in your footsteps?
Masa : I believe that imagination is the most powerful thing we have and even think it can sometimes be stronger than reality. It is the heart of our creativity, but I am concerned that, due to the exponential increase of information, our imagination is shrinking. It helps to cut ourselves off from the overload of info sometimes to foster the true potential of our imaginations. In terms of career, major step-ups for me always happened due to winning competitions - so my advice will be to keep trying them. And surprisingly, the best part is not winning - it is that the competitions are a great way to keep pushing our design skills. I can't remember how many times the methodologies conceived for competitions we lost ended up helping us so much in real projects. As for the design process, I would stress that most breakthroughs I encountered were hiding in seemingly dumb ideas people would normally overlook. So, I would encourage young people to never be afraid of exploring ideas, however childish or naive they may seem.
Avatar X Lab
Iroha : Outside of work, what are you most interested in right now?
Masa : How our lives may change in the coming 20 years or so due to technology, politics, environmental issues, etc., as it is quite obvious there will be larger shifts and challenges compared to what we have experienced in past. But, however discouraging the prospect may seem, I believe that there are always solutions for any problem if we truly think creatively - and that's what I learned through working with great team of people throughout our projects.
written by Jessica Woolsey / photography : GION, Brian Mosbacher , ©NASA-Clouds AO, ©Clouds AO,