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Susan Lobel | May 01, 2012
In February, I received a call that my friend, architect Yoshiko Sato, had passed away from complications due to breast cancer. The news came as a total shock. Although I had known her for 14 years, like many others I’d had no idea she had even been ill. I was instantly filled with regret: I hadn’t called or seen her enough over the past year—raising my two children was consuming and I fell out of touch. I wanted to share with her how my five-year-old daughter had become enamored with all things Japanese; I was sorry never to have taken her up on the many offers to spend a few days at the beautiful Shelter Island home she designed with her husband and business partner, Michael. The list goes on. But as is often the case, I believed there would always be more time.
I first met Yoshiko and Michael when I commissioned their firm, Morris Sato Studio, to design a lobby display at 41 Madison in New York in 1998. A SoHo apartment they had recently finished had just been featured in a magazine, and I hoped they would acquiesce to do the lobby project. Luckily for me, they did, and from the very start, there was an instant and easy connection. Through the years, I referred them to whomever I could and called upon Yoshiko to do a number of assignments, from designing awards and judging programs to creating innovative spaces for trade shows.
Yoshiko was always so easy to work with and creative beyond belief. No request was ever too great. My budgets were never grand, yet both she and Michael accepted the challenges and always delivered with professionalism and grace – including the time I dragged them to Las Vegas to design an installation for a new hospitality show.
In the design community Yoshiko was known as an architect, an educator, and a recipient of many honors and degrees. She was impressive. As a graduate of both the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art and Harvard University Harvard Graduate School of Design, and as an associate professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, she approached things with an artistic eye and intellectual mind. Her abilities went beyond architecture to encompass exhibitions, healthcare and product design, space habitation modules developed with NASA, and costumes collaborations for the Beijing Olympics.
But to me, she was simply Yoshiko, a woman of impeccable style and taste (favoring Issey Miyake clothing and Stephane Kélian shoes), whose diminutive stature and quiet demeanor belied her adventurous spirit, humor, and strength. In many ways, Yoshiko’s architecture is a reflection of her own self – elegant and dignified on the outside, yet warm and inviting once you cross the threshold.
Although generous, she was a very private person and managed to conceal her illness for ten years, preventing it from defining her or inviting attention or concern. She forged on until she could do so no longer, going so far as to place tape over the camera during a Skype call to veil her diminished state from her students. She was a true professional to the end.
The design world lost a bright star the day Yoshiko passed away. And I lost a friend. But her spirit will live on in her projects and the many people she taught, mentored and inspired along the way.
ご冥福をお祈りします。(gomeifuku wo oinorishimasu).
Rest in peace, Yoshiko. You will be missed.
Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation has established the SATO SPACE ARCHITECTURE FUND. In honor of Yoshiko’s legacy and to further her teachings on the architecture of outer space, the university will offer an annual grant for related travel and research. For more information or to donate in her name, please contact Liz Vazquez at email@example.com.