Yoshio Taniguchi Biography


Born in 1937 in Japan; son of Yoshiro Taniguchi (an architect); married Kumi. Education: Earned engineering degree from Keio University, 1960; Harvard University Graduate School of Design, M.Arch., 1964.

Addresses: Office —c/o Museum of Modern Art, 44 W. 53rd St., New York, NY 10019.


Affiliated with the architecture studios of Walter Gropius, and Kenzo Tange in Japan; established own practice, 1975.


Art-world denizens and architecture critics were stunned when New York City's esteemed Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) chose a relatively unknown Japanese architect, Yoshio Taniguchi, to design a much-needed expansion for the midtown Manhattan landmark. The modernist-minded Taniguchi was a somewhat controversial choice for the project, but in 2004, when the MoMA officially reopened, critics bestowed ardent accolades on the coolly Zen-like new design. "In an era of glamorously expressionist architecture," asserted Time 's art scribe Richard Lacayo, the New York art treasure-house "has opted for a work of what you might call old-fashioned Modernism, clean-lined and rectilinear, a subtly updated version of the glass-and-steel box that the museum first championed in the 1930s, years before that style was adopted for corporate headquarters everywhere."

Yoshio Taniguchi

Taniguchi was born in 1937, and is the son of a well-known architect, Yoshiro Taniguchi. The elder Taniguchi belonged to the first wave of modernist architects in Japan, following the dictates of a German-Russian axis of innovators of the 1920s who believed in creating structures in which clean design lines and an absence of extraneous detail were paramount. The Taniguchi family lived in Tokyo, and as a young man Taniguchi studied at the city's prestigious Keio University, where he earned his mechanical engineering degree in 1960. From there, he went directly to Harvard University and its Graduate School of Design, which granted him a degree in architecture in 1964.

For a short time, Taniguchi worked in the studio of one of the founders of modernism in architecture, Walter Gropius. Back in Japan, he spent several years working for the architect Kenzo Tange, who was a key figure in the reconstruction of Hiroshima after World War II. Taniguchi's years at that studio coincided with the era when Tange's office was seeing Tokyo Olympic Complex to completion, and also St. Mary's Cathedral, a Tokyo Roman Catholic landmark. By 1975, Taniguchi had opened his own practice, and began taking on design jobs for schools, libraries, and other public-use buildings throughout Japan. He limited the number of projects his firm accepted, so that he might better oversee the numerous details himself, rather than delegating such decisions.

Taniguchi emerged as one of Japan's leading museum architects in the 1980s and '90s. His projects included the Shiseido Museum of Art, Marugame Museum of Contemporary Art, Toyota Municipal Museum of Art, and Tokyo National Museum's Gallery of Horyuji Treasures. But his design for a less austere destination site, the Tokyo Sea Life Park, earned high marks from Architecture 's Dana Buntrock. "The skillful way in which Taniguchi manipulated the landscape of this site to establish a series of horizontal planes merging with the sea, and the dramatic beauty of the entry pavilion, make this park one of Tokyo's most popular spots," the writer assessed.

Taniguchi's buildings had a cool minimalism to them, and often used luxurious construction materials. He preferred to let the wood or stone convey the building's aesthetic grace. "A lot of architects design a lot of details," he explained to Newsweek writer Cathleen McGuigan. "I try to conceal details." When he took part in the design competition for the Museum of Modern Art expansion, he reportedly told the MoMA trustees and curator of architecture, Terence Riley, that "if we were to raise a lot of money for the project, he would make very good architecture," Riley recalled in an interview with Financial Times journalist Edwin Heathcote. "However, if we were to raise a real lot of money, he would make the architecture disappear." Taniguchi showed them a model that featured glass, aluminum and black slate, but recalled that his presentation before the trustees went so poorly that he headed to a nearby watering hole to drink afterward. Despite his misgivings, he was chosen as the architect of choice for the MoMA project in late 1997.

Taniguchi was a controversial choice for the museum re-design. He beat out several other more well-known names—including Dutch star Rem Koolhaas—with his small box that mirrored the original MoMA building, but with a new entrance atrium. Some derided Taniguchi's style as overly "corporate," and not a good match for the museum, which houses the world's best collection of modern art and sculpture under one roof. Its treasures include Pablo Picasso's "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon," Andy Warhol's soup cans, and a long list of other seminal works from, among others, Henri Matisse, Willem deKooning, and Jackson Pollock. MoMA opened its doors in 1939 as one of New York City's first Bauhaus-style structures. Later additions were done by renowned architects Philip Johnson and Cesar Pelli, but the place was still cramped.

When Taniguchi's name was announced as the winner of the MoMA competition, the museum's trustees had not yet raised the money for the expansion, and that figure rose to an astonishing $425 million. Moreover, the building had to be closed for more than two years and its collection relocated to a temporary museum space in Queens. Taniguchi himself did not relocate from Japan, but instead spent long stretches in New York to oversee the project. When the MoMA reopened to the public in late 2004, Taniguchi's once-questioned design was judged a perfect fit for the famed museum. Visitors entered through a stunning 110-foot-high new atrium, which connected nearly all the galleries, and his addition raised the existing 85,000 square feet of space to 125,000. Some of the galleries were large, while others were more intimate in scale. "In Taniguchi's subtly tailored galleries you have room to wander, to enjoy MoMA's greatest hits in a variety of sequences and to get a clear look at everything," remarked Newsweek art critic Peter Plagens. Many critics commented on how the familiar masterpieces now seemed to shine, and that seemed to have been Taniguchi's intention from the start. "Without art, museum architecture should look unfinished," he told New York Times writer Robin Pogrebin. "If it looks finished, it's a very bad museum."

Late in 2004, Taniguchi won another high-profile U.S. commission, this one for a new site for the Houston outpost of the Asia Society, to be situated in the city's Museum District. The MoMA project, which took up eight years of his career, remains his proudest achievement. He and his wife, Kumi, "don't have any children," he explained to Pogrebin in the New York Times. "So this is like my daughter." He also added that the MoMA administration "made me an honorary trustee, so I can watch how my daughter will grow."


Architectural Review, November 1999, p. 96.

Architecture, October 1996, p. 96; June 1998, p. 104.

Financial Times, November 15, 2004, p. 15.

Houston Chronicle, November 11, 2004.

Newsweek, October 11, 2004, p. 50; November 22, 2004, p. 74.

New York Times, November 16, 2004, p. E1.

Time, October 11, 2004, p. 86.

—Carol Brennan

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