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Azusa Sekkei: Japan’s leading Organizational Architectural Design Company

Interview - February 16, 2021

Azusa Sekkei was established over 70 years ago and is a Organizational Architectural Design Company with over 630 employees and the fourth largest in the Industry. We demonstrate our high level of expertise and carry out our business centered on six domains: transportation infrastructure, sports/entertainment, healthcare, urban/commercial, workplace, and logistics/living infrastructure. Azusa Sekkei boasts the top share as a pioneer of airport design in Japan. In the international field, we have been engaged in Japan National Stadium project for the Tokyo Olympics, and Phu-Bai Airport in Vietnam. Azusa has a passion for architectural design and always strives to create unique designs that express their creative passions.

FUMIHIKO SUGITANI, PRESIDENT OF: AZUSA SEKKEI
FUMIHIKO SUGITANI | PRESIDENT OF: AZUSA SEKKEI

What can Japan teach the world about design and monozukuri?

From the architectural design perspective, I think that people are too focused on seeing a design. But design is not only about the visual aspect of seeing. Our process begins a deep client process that happens when we work with someone. For us, the design is a result of communication with the clients. To be a complete design, we must pay attention to things including after the design.  I think this is different from other countries. Japan has a culture that permeates across all different industries and that is how we create in the interest of clients, not ourselves. When it comes to monozukuri, we are still focused on the process. We focus and derive pleasure from seeing satisfied clients. Sometimes this means even producing something that doesn’t necessarily benefit us, but we still want our clients to be happy.

 

How do you plan to gain more of the global market share?

When we deliver a service, our advantage is in our details and providing more than the client’s expectations. And although this could sometimes hurt our profits, this is our mission. We find it difficult to increase market share in countries that do not recognize and value this mission. Not only is the output important to us, but like we mentioned, so is the process. Our process consists of an iteration of checking back with the client to make sure every step we make exceeds their expectations. Wed happily expand to any market that wants architects with our philosophy. We don't have a strategy for exactly where we want to go and how to get there, but we will follow any genuine demand for what we provide.

When it comes to Southeast Asia, we can't say that we and the markets in these regions are matched yet, but that doesn't mean that the need for our eye-catching design doesn't exist in Southeast Asia. I feel that the number of clients who evaluate the quality of Japan is gradually increasing. For example, I think it would be better if the technology of refrigerating warehouses, which is our strength, and the know-how of hospital design are needed more.

 

What is your competitive advantage?

Our strength lies in our ability to provide comprehensive solutions. This includes high Japanese quality, our expertise in Japanese design, as well as more technical elements like air conditioning and lighting, all of which are part of comprehensively creating a space. So users can enjoy the function of the saving energy, not only just a design.

 

Are you looking to expand with new clients and new products?

Weve been long established in Japan, but that is not the case outside of Japan. We know we must find new clients and projects outside Japan but that has proven to be difficult. But weve been trying to tackle this by better branding. We participate in trade fairs and other exhibitions where we represent our work.

 

Are there any projects that define the essence of Azusa Sekkei?

This would be the Olympic national stadium. For this project, we integrated all our best technology into the design and we believe it shows all our capability. One area we have the largest market share in is refrigerated warehouses for food companies. We introduced the most advanced technology that saves energy while keeping the same temperature standard. Recently, there was a power outage at a center but the ability of the center was not changed or even challenged as it can run for a month without power. We believe in the demand for this technology from both developed and developing countries and this really demonstrates our integration of design and functionality.

 

Please tell us about the latest DX (Digital transformation) initiatives.

We established the AX (Architecture Experience) team in-house in 2019. We are promoting the conversion to DX in every scene that connects us and our clients.

For example, the movement of people at the airport is simulated to check the flow line, the thermal simulation is visualized using a BIM model, and the movement of people in the office is visualized to show the degree of congestion in the office. We are actively promoting the conversion to DX so that customers can easily communicate with each other and work efficiently.

 

What are your next challenges?

The next point of focus for us is predicting life post COVID-19. We want to better understand how people live, move, work, rest, and enjoy the spaces. Even before the pandemic we were a company that allowed for flexible work locations, whether that be home, a park, satellite offices, or different desks throughout the day. We already had all tools (iPhone, iPad, Lap top PC) for the tele / remote work in advance, so it was not too hard to move new era. In the new situation due to the pandemic, we would like to maximize our capabilities and fulfill our role as a design company.

 

If we were to return in three years to conduct another interview, what would you like to tell us and have accomplished by then?

Going back to our philosophy, we are truly happy when our customers are happy, so we want to work towards that goal. Once COVID-19 eases, we want our employees to go outside Japan, work with locals in project areas and make local customers happy. We hope that every employee feels fulfilled and enjoys doing what they do at our company. 

Finally, I would like to tell you about the characteristics of our company. We do not have a parent company, that is the reason why we are unusual for an architecture firm. Our executives are selected from in-house, regardless of the intentions of external investors, and the largest holder of shares also holds an employee shareholding association. We are rare for this point, and we pride ourselves in it.

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