Experimenting with Materials
‘It can be said without any exaggeration that Kengo Kuma’s architecture sticks in the memory like a beautiful clearing under a canopy of tree crowns or a seashore where we like to take a stroll. Anyone who has come in contact with it – has had tea at Nezu Café (Tokyo) or reached the Stone Museum (Nasu) in the Japanese provinces, or the Hiroshige Museum (Batō), or perhaps travelled thousands of kilometres to see a small railway station and the neighbouring Chokkura Plaza – knows what it’s like.’
- Barbara Stec, KAAFM professor
is one of the pantheon of the greatest personalities of contemporary Japanese architecture, next to such stars of the older generation as Kenzo Tange, Arata Isozaki, Tadao Ando, Fumihiko Maki, and Toyo Ito, along with those of his own generation, including Kazuyo Sejima, Shigeru Ban, and Jun Aoki. He owes his success to shying away from the postmodernist stylistics that dominated in the 1980s and 1990s in Japan, with its formalism and commercialism. Kuma’s design method continued to develop based on experience gained in work on small scale projects built at places other than Tokyo, working with local masters of traditional crafts. It was with fascination that he searched for new means of expression based on traditional techniques and natural materials that could become a mediating element between the modern world and the existential aspect of human life. The path towards this goal involved experimenting with materials – the stuff of construction – and numerous unconventional uses of timber and wood, including bamboo, and also stone, ceramics, etc. Kuma began to explore the delicate relations between space, materials and their perception, at the same time simplifying architectural form and consigning it to secondary status, in keeping with his idea of ‘erasing architecture’. In this exploration, he reduced his materials to an indispensable minimum, while assigning to them the primary role of constructing the significance of the architecture. His juxtapositions of glass and water or glass and bamboo generate spaces of sensory perception; various woods and their joints become objects of experimentation, as does stone and the possibilities of using it for elevation screens in a veritable knitted fabric of variable patterns spread over glass elevations. There is movement, a natural quality, and asymmetry in his works; this architecture is haptic and dynamic in the extreme, while also being harmonious and emanating calm. Treating a building not as a form but as an outcome of the relationship between the human body, matter, and the environment, Kuma has successfully restored architecture to the human senses, and that in turn makes it possible to bring traditional Japanese aesthetics and the challenges of modern-day sustainable architecture closer together.Kengo Kuma
was born in 1954. His career has flourished consistently since the early 1990s and he is now one of the most prominent representatives of contemporary world architecture. He studied at the University of Tokyo under Professor Hiroshi Hara and graduated in 1979. His earliest work as an architect was with the Nihon Sekkei practice and the Toda Corporation. In 1985 and 1986, he was a visiting research fellow on an Asian Cultural Council (ACC) scholarship at Columbia University, with support from Arata Isozaki. After returning to Tokyo, he formed the Spatial Design Studio in 1987, followed by Kengo Kuma and Associates (KKAA) in 1990. For years, he has combined his career as a designer with a professorship at the University of Tokyo, heading the ‘Kuma Lab’ at its Department of Architecture. His firm, KKAA, designs buildings all over the world and has offices in China and France. His best known built projects include the National Stadium in Tokyo (2021); V&A Dundee, Scotland (2018); the House of Fairytales, Odensee, Denmark (2020); the Odunpazari Modern Museum, Eskisehir, Turkey (2018); the Yusuhara Wooden Bridge Museum, Japan (2011); the Nezu Museum in Tokyo (2009); the Nagasaki Prefectural Art Museum (2005); the Bamboo House, Commune by the Great Wall, China (2002); the Nasu Stone Museum (2000); and the Bato Hiroshige Museum (2000);Kengo Kuma is the only architect on Time magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people in 2021.
Financed by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of the Republic of Poland