working at SANAA?


Was wondering if anyone has experienced working at SANAA or perhaps currently working them - as a foreigner?

Have been looking at their works a lot in the past year and somewhat my uni works developed to resemble their approach.

The thought of going to Japan and work for them has been residing in my head for quite sometime since I graduated last year in Dec 2010, although I receive occasion discouragements from family and friends.

is there any probability to get an offer if I'm applying for the position offshore?

How essential to learn Japanese language? would this be a prime consideration of getting an offer at SANAA?

I need to be able to afford my own living expenses if I'm working there. I have 2 yrs full-time experience as assistant architect prior to completing my study, will I be paid for this?
Low wage is ok, but I need to survive on my own.

Thank you for reading. Any information could be shared or feedback will be much appreciated.

Thank you

Mar 7, 11 7:09 pm

There's some horror stories about them floating around here if you dig hard enough. I'm not sure how true they are, but they make for entertaining reading. I don't think they pay, but I'm not 100% sure. I suppose there's no way to find out if you'll get it or not unless you apply.

Mar 7, 11 10:14 pm  · 

Someone who worked there blogged about it .

-most interns work for free.
-they stay there up to 5 months.
-you bring your own computer.
-there may not be any actual desk space for you to work on.
-if you leave at midnight, you're the first one to leave.
-office appears to be unheated.

So there.

You'd think with all that free labor, they'd be able to afford to design some ornamentation for their dumb white cardboard boxes, but no.

Why do you want to whore it up for those guys? At least Michael Graves will teach you how to properly design an aluminum column enclosure...

Mar 7, 11 10:16 pm  · 


thanks for responds and link.

that's kind of horrid. Yeah, I've heard some of the horror stories. But I would like to work there as a graduate, is it as bad as interns..? As long as I'm paid enough for rent and food, I'd be happy to work there.

I had difficulties while I was study, no one truly understand what I was doing, I was on my own. when I found their works, I instantly knew where I need to go and things gets better. I like model-making, I'm not into digital. Hope that explains.

Mar 7, 11 11:18 pm  · 

to continue to the horror stories, my friend was proudly offered a job at sanaa, she had about 3 years experience post grad. their job 'offer' was 6 months unpaid work, with the possiblilty of a obtaining a paying job after that. she declined their offer.

Mar 8, 11 4:48 am  · 

So even heating in the office is too much to ask for. At least garbage men have a heated canteen to have lunch.

In any profession, the more known a company is (PriveWaterouseCooper, Google, Boeing, Intel etc.) the better the working conditions. Architecture is the only profession where it's the opposite.

Mar 8, 11 5:51 am  · 

Theyre great architects, ... go work for them if you can afford it.

Mar 8, 11 8:36 am  · 

"dumb white cardboard boxes" haahhaha

Mar 8, 11 1:45 pm  · 

Enlightening post Rusty, it sounds absolutely horrible.

Mar 8, 11 2:37 pm  · 

Properly sized it for you homie.

Mar 8, 11 4:14 pm  · 

25 celsius is pretty warm.

Mar 8, 11 5:08 pm  · 

In Japan, by intern they do not mean someone who has yet to complete their studies. An intern can be a recent graduate as well. It is very common in Japan to have an initial period of some months unpaid, not just in architecture, but in other similar fields. Specifically at SANAA the terms are:

- typically 6 months unpaid (IF you do well enough, there may be a job offer)

- long hours (easily 12+ hours, 6-7 days a week)

- their new office is spacious by Tokyo standards (others here are commenting on their previous space) but located in an area of town that is entirely atypical for Tokyo. It looks like Los Angeles (6-lane roads, large banal buildings, malls with multi-story parking lots). It's very strange for Tokyo.

- you must bring your own laptop and software (they use Vectorworks)

- don't bother sending your 3d renderings. They're not interested. Show plans, lots of plans, interesting and innovative plans. And models, lots of models.

- your best bet at an interview is to state you will be in Tokyo on X day and would like to speak to the person in charge of foreign recruitment

- it's not critical that you speak Japanese, but it wouldn't hurt

- the studio organization is diffuse and in many ways non-hierarchical which is strange because Japan is all about hierarchy. Regular design reviews happen regularly late in the evening with Sejima and Nishizawa. If you present a great idea, it could easily be selected as the direction to go in. This is not very common in the U.S. where often it is top down and you're the pencil.

I don't agree with the lack of pay, but if, as you say, you love their work, it's worth it. Many people spend close to $40k/year in tuition to go to schools where the instructors can only dedicate a certain amount of time to you, and the projects are hypothetical. SANAA would be an intense trial by fire working on real projects and pushing your limits with guidance from what I think are the best architects practicing today.

Mar 8, 11 7:25 pm  · 

Hi ElGrecus, I don't who you are or where you are.
I am very thankful for you info. I owe you a gratitude.

Mar 9, 11 12:31 am  · 
St. George's Fields

You might want to determine if SANAA's or your potential residence's prefecture department has any assistance or programs.

You'll be required to register at one and show up monthly anyways. But many cities and neighborhoods of Japan have excellent programs set up to help students, foreigners et cetera in these situations.

Mar 9, 11 1:23 am  · 
St. George's Fields



Maybe jump can translate some of this. But I think it means that there is job training assistance. Not sure if foreigners qualify for it. But foreigners do qualify for most benefits of the Japanese government after registering for their visas.

Mar 9, 11 1:30 am  · 

just push the button marked english for the english translation. that link is for koto ward but i guess works well enough.

i haven't heard of job training assistance here but i have not looked before. showing up monthly to prefecture office is not something i have ever done myself glitter. did you find that somewhere on the website?

as for benefits, well if you are legal you can get pertty cheap healthcare/insurance but beyond that i don't think the govt will do much for you.

my office was equally non-hierarchical elgrecus. i worked for reglar office, not starchitect, but i love that aspect of many offices here. it means you get to take part in interesting work from the first day and not have to wait around for a year or two before someone lets you take on the responsibility. there is a real strain of anarchy in japanese office culture (and school too now i think on it) that makes life here quite interesting. i recommend it to anyone.

the long hours without reward however are not so good ;-)

Mar 9, 11 8:08 am  · 
vado retro

if you're unpaid you might as well work twelve hours a day seven days a week. what else can you do with all those ducats?

Mar 9, 11 12:42 pm  · 

"Internship with SANAA", played to the tune of "Holiday in Cambodia" by DK

So you been to school for a year or two
And you think you've seen it all
In daddy's car thinkin' you'll go far
Back east your type don't crawl
Play ethnicky jazz to parade your snazz
On your overpriced IPhone
Braggin that you know how the ******s feel cold
'Cause the studio's so damn cold

Its time to taste what you want most dear
Rhino will not help you here
Brace yourself my dear
Brace yourself my dear

It's an internship with SANAA
It's tough kid but it's life
It's an internship with SANAA
Don't forget your XACTO knife

Your a.... Damn, my lunch break is over.

Mar 9, 11 1:04 pm  · 

*golfclap* @ apurimac

Mar 9, 11 1:06 pm  · 

I am curious about the number of Archinecteors who feel unpaid positions like this are evil and repugnant versus the number who feel it's an honor if its for a firm like SANAA. It feels to me like there is a team "don't do it under any circumstances" and a team "It's worth it for the stars". Or do the boundaries blur? Because its typical for Japan is it OK?

I understand the urge, but it tends to make working for these firms a bit of an elitist affair (only the financially independent can afford to do it).

And it not only undermines the value of recent grads, it will tend to draw down the value of the profession as a whole: it skews the productivity curve when you have a segment of the profession with infinite productivity (output divided by cost of labor equals productivity).

Mar 9, 11 7:07 pm  · 
St. George's Fields

"showing up monthly to prefecture office is not something i have ever done myself glitter. did you find that somewhere on the website?"

I swear I read it on the Fussa City website when I applied for a job there. But on another close inspection, I must be lying. I do remember reading that and thinking... "oh god, that's bullshit."

However, I must have imagined it.

Other than that, there are programs though that vary city-to-city when it comes to these kinds of benefits.

Mar 9, 11 7:35 pm  · 

That's Karl Fender to the left in that photo, president of the AIA (Australian Institute of Architects)
Link to his firm is
They just completed 'Mona' a private art gallery in Tasmania that's worth a look

Mar 10, 11 2:24 am  · 

There are many governments and organisation worldwide trying to stop slavery in many asian and african countries. The goal is at least to give those workers (who make our jeans) a fair share, better working conditions, pension and vacation. Architects, who in general, are quite liberal support these initiatives, but at the same token, put themselves in the same situation by working for free for starchitects. It's amazing. Architects don't seem to understand that a profession can only exist if money is being generated.

The more money is pumped in R&D the better the product. Even in a highly creavtive industry like the circus, there is a huge difference between Cirque du Soleil that makes billions and a regular travelling circus.

Apparanelty, architecture is the only profession where a client can get a design for highly innovative, creative, state of the art building for a bag of peanuts. This doesn't exist in any other field. Do you thing the Ferrari factory workers work for free?

Mar 10, 11 4:30 am  · 

not to make this into an argument over paying staff or not, but there is a certain amount of training going on for these students. paying someone to sit in a chair and learn to become a bit more competent then watch them leave in 3 months or 6 months is not a very good business model either...

@ glitter, ok, if you say so. i wouldn't count on anything like that myself, just as a rule. japan is very libertarian society, especially when it comes to foreigners living here. if you are here you are pretty much on your own. which is the best reason to come. nothing more exciting than being tossed in the deep end in a country where no one speaks your language and the culture is forgiving.

Mar 10, 11 7:39 pm  · 

Though it's an old post..was wondering @leaves..did you go for working at Sanaa? If you was your experience..overall ?

Jul 10, 15 1:37 pm  · 

Block this user

Are you sure you want to block this user and hide all related comments throughout the site?

  • ×Search in: