Toshiko Mori, FAIA, founder of New York–based Toshiko Mori Architect, has earned the Topaz Medallion for her groundbreaking contributions to architectural education. The Robert P. Hubbard professor in the practice of architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, she was the first female faculty member to receive tenure there. Here she responds to our architect's version of the Proust questionnaire.
What is the most memorable moment of your teaching career?
Each day when I see the insight and ideas of my students.
When did you first know you wanted to teach architecture?
When I was studying at the Cooper Union under John Hejduk.
What is your teaching style?
Observing each student to optimize his or her capacity and individual talent.
What is the most unfortunate reality about architectural education today?
The lack of diversity in terms of gender balance and diverse cultural representation.
What is the greatest challenge facing architects today?
Keeping up with changing technology and balancing it with a moral and ethical compass.
When did you first realize you wanted to be an architect?
When I was a high school student studying the history of the Renaissance.
What jobs did your parents have?
In international business.
What would you have been if not an architect?
What keeps you up at night?
The details in schedules and design.
What is your favorite building?
Maison Louis Carré by Alvar Aalto.
What is your most treasured possession?
My puppy, Mamenosuke.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Personal yoga instruction.
When and where were you the happiest?
When I am at our farm in Maine, and being on or near the sea.
What is your greatest fear?
That we are making ourselves and the planet extinct.
Which talent would you most like to have?
What does architectural misery mean?
Being stuck with mediocrity.
What does architectural happiness mean?
In the state of harmony in quality, aesthetics, and function.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
I tend to take the shortcut.
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Laziness and not being on time.
What’s the last drawing you did?
Sketching of framing details.
Which five architects, living or dead, would you most like to have dinner with?
John Hejduk, Kazuo Shinohara, Alvar Aalto, Lina Bo Bardi, and Carlo Scarpa.
Which living person do you most admire?
Which book(s) are you currently reading?
Words Without Music, a Philip Glass memoir; The Library Book, by Susan Orlean.
Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
Taeko in The Makioka Sisters by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki.
What’s the one question you wish we had asked (and the answer to that question)?
What is your favorite sport? Skiing and swimming.
What do you hope your legacy will be?
That my work survives beyond myself.
What does winning the Topaz Medallion mean to you?
Teaching is invisible; one cannot measure the impacts, and one teaches continually for years with generosity, passion, and empathy. So, when such an effort is valued in visible terms, it is incredible.