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Shoji Sadao.
Shoji Sadao.

Shoji Sadao (1926–2019)

Architect Shoji Sadao, a longtime collaborator of polymaths Buckminster Fuller and Isamu Noguchi and the former director of the Noguchi Foundation from 1988 to 2003, died on November 3 in Tokyo. He was ninety-two years old.

Sadao began his creative partnership with Fuller while at Cornell University’s school of architecture in the early 1950s, and for decades henceforth he brought Fuller’s ideas to practical fruition, including a twenty-story, 250-foot-diameter geodesic dome for the United States pavilion at Montreal’s 1967 International and Universal Exposition. In the November 2008 issue of Artforum, scholar Sean Keller called the display an “unequaled monument to the American Century” and their many architectural collaborations “not just utopian, but atemporal—the quality that underpins their sci-fi character.”

Sadao was born in Los Angeles to Japanese immigrants. Along with thousands of Japanese Americans during early US involvement in World War II, he and his family were sent to Arizona’s Gila River internment camp, where he finished high school and grew interested in architecture after being paired in a work-study program with a Quaker camp staffer in charge of the facilities and grounds. Upon acceptance to Boston University, Sadao was allowed to leave the camps and began college in 1945, though he was soon drafted and served as an army cartographer for four years.

Through the GI Bill, he eventually enrolled at Cornell University, which Fuller joined as a visiting professor in 1952. They began working together on Fuller’s Dymaxion Map, which illustrates the planet as a single, interconnected island situated in one ocean. After graduating in 1954, he joined Fuller’s office in Raleigh, North Carolina, and in the next decade, they collaborated on Project for Floating Cloud Structures (Cloud Nine), a proposal for airborne spherical cities; a dome for a US government project in Kabul; and the 1959–60 exhibition “Three Structures by Buckminster Fuller” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Sadao also assisted Noguchi, whom he met through Fuller in 1956, in realizing concepts from the Hart Plaza foundation in Detroit, to the Billy Rose Sculpture Garden at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, to Moerenuma Park in Sapporo. He was a partner in the firm Buckminster Fuller, Sadao & Zung Architects and curated the exhibition “Best of Friends: Buckminster Fuller and Isamu Noguchi” at the Noguchi Museum in Queens, New York, in 2006.