Team Zoo is a Japanese cooperative of small studios including architecture, urban planning, furniture makers and graphic designers. Formed in 1971 as Atelier Zō by graduates of Waseda University, Tokyo, the group was influenced by the architect and educator, Takamasa Yoshizaka, whose emphasis on regional identity and vernacular approaches they adopted. By 1978 the group had expanded, calling itself Team Zoo with each individual practice named after a different animal. The organisational structure of Team Zoo is the result of the unique Japanese context, where the rapid post-war economic growth fuelled a building boom that demanded extremely fast paced construction, something very difficult for a small office to achieve. The group therefore comes together for large-scale projects that demand such a commitment, whilst working independently in the interim. The high rents of Tokyo also saw many of the individual practices moving out to the provinces, where most of their projects were located, mainly schools, kindergartens and community buildings as well as some housing.
Many of the group’s buildings are designed to be intimate in scale with large institutional buildings being broken down and clustered together. Team Zoo also insist on using local materials and craftsmen; often this has led to new workshops being set up by artisans employed by them. For example, Atelier Iruka in Kobe used traditional plastering methods for the exterior of their library in Wakimachi, contacting craftsmen whose skills were almost forgotten and arranging for young apprentices to be trained, thus ensuring the survival of the craft for at least another generation. They also commissioned traditional birds and dragons from a local tile factory saving it from closure. Atelier Zo, which is the most active of the studios, is known for its buildings expressing the zoological metaphors of the groups’ names, for example Domo Cerakanto takes its shape from a mythical fish. The combination of such metaphors with vernacular traditions stand in marked contrast to much of contemporary Japanese architecture and the loose cooperative structure of the group has ensured that their slower and more individualised approach to architecture can survive in a highly competitive context.