May 31, 2018 · Communications

The Secret To Becoming A Starchitect

This is Takaharu (always in blue) and Yui (always in red) Tezuka. They’re husband and wife architects with an office of about 20 employees in Tokyo, Japan.

This is their most famous project, an oval-roofed kindergarten in Japan.


Here is Takaharu giving a TED talk about this project. It has 800,000 views on Youtube, 4 Mil+ views on TED, and 30+ Million views on Facebook and other social media networks.

“The best kindergarten you’ve ever seen”

1. People are desperate for honesty and transparency.

The presentation doesn’t have high production values. It wasn’t shot by a famous photographer. In fact, all of the images were shot by Takaharu on his iPad. It isn’t famous because it won awards, or got in lots of magazines. It works because it’s real, honest storytelling about something people care about.

The comments speak for themselves.


Takaharu is just being himself and presenting the bare core of what the project is about. Reality works.

2. Don’t change the story until you have a better story. Play the long game.

The Fuji kindergarten TED talk was recorded in 2014, seven years after the project was completed.

For the better part of a decade, Tezuka presented this project, and nothing else. This gets Tezuka booked to speak all over the world.

In fact, Tezuka posted this two days ago on Facebook. Fuji kindergarten on display at the Venice biennale, in 2018!


While his practice worked on a number of beautiful houses, cafes, museums, hospitals, and everything else both before, and after, the kindergarten— they weren’t his greatest success stories.

The rest of the firm’s projects weren’t what he wanted his team to be known for, so Tezuka spent years single-mindedly spreading the word about his office’s cornerstone project to any crowd that would have him.

Why? Because being known the world-over for designing the world’s best kindergarten is a priceless asset, and it doesn’t happen overnight.

It takes years to be known for something.

Tezuka understood two things:

Like a stand-up comedian who spends two years on the road developing and perfecting the same material, it was only when Tezuka finally got the architect’s equivalent of a Netflix special — a worldwide release via TED — that he was forced to throw out his act and start talking about his next success story.

Identifying what his firm could be known for, and patiently pressing that advantage all over the world for a decade, has paid off for Tezuka Architects. The office has had the opportunity to work on a dozen kindergartens and school’s in the last five years.


I am the architect who designs the most… what?

It doesn’t matter if you’re an architect, designer or in real estate: the concept of “image” and the hamster wheel of new project after new project is dead. It’s the age of storytelling, honesty, and building a lasting reputation for something.

But how do you get there?

Ryan Serhant, of Million Dollar Listings fame, explained his process for laddering up his agency from small successes to big ones in a recent vlog. To me, he kind of captures (in a really practical way) the strategy that I think Tezuka has used so effectively.

“I need to scream my successes, and if my only success is renting a $2000/mo apartment, then that’s what people are going to know me as doing.
How did I get to that next level? Every dollar amount that I moved up in deals, then those were the only deals I’d talk about, and people started reaching out.
You do $3000 per month apartments… for NYU grads… with parents as guarantors, right?… Yes I do! I’m that guy, let’s do it!
I focus a lot on being known as the one who sells ________.
If it’s just homes, what differentiates you from everyone else? If you can’t figure out what you’re known as selling, figure out what you sell the most of, and that’s your thing.
And if you don’t like it, you move out of it slowly and scream those successes from the mountain tops.

On his social media effort, Ryan says

“I don’t need to do [so much on social media], I do okay. But, I wanted to put more out there to get different kinds of business and scream my success from the mountains… because there’s 80'000 brokers in New York City.”

Awesome advice.

Further reading:

People Don't Follow Brands, They Follow People

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