Kazuyo Sejima, 54, got her start building houses with tatami mat rooms. She has gone on to transform the global urban landscape by blending startling modernity with traditional Japanese ideas of space (i.e., walls act as partitions, not supports). As the first female director of Venice's architecture biennale, which opens in August, Sejima intends to explore the relationship between architecture and new lifestyles and values in society. "In each project, it's important to find some relation to the context and fit—which doesn't mean the same shape or the same height," she says, "but more a feeling." Sejima, with partner Ryue Nishizawa, has gained acclaim for projects such as the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa, Japan, and the New Museum of Contemporary Art in Manhattan. Biennale president Paolo Baratta calls her a new master of architecture "who has made quality into a personal vocation."