About Kengo Kuma

Japanese architect Kengo Kuma was born in Kanagawa, Japan, in 1954. When Kego Kuma was ten years old, his father took him to see the renowned Yoyogi National Gymnasium, which was built for the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, sparking his fascination with architecture.

Kengo Kuma_ designboom, andy butler I. (2014). kengo kuma tells us about his ‘habitable forest’ pavilion at AMD 2014. _©designboom | architecture & design magazine.

In 1979, he graduated from the University of Tokyo with a master’s degree in architecture, and he immediately began working at Nihon Sekkei and TODA Corporation. He started the Spatial Design Studio in 1987, and Kengo Kuma & Associates, his studio, was launched in 1990. After teaching at Keio University and the University of Tokyo, he is now a University Professor and Professor Emeritus at the University of Tokyo. Kengo Kuma’s work has received prestigious awards and acknowledgement globally.

About the Firm

Today, Kengo Kuma and Associates is a global architectural firm with over 300 employees who are commissioned and compete for diverse projects of various scales. The Tokyo office is the headquarters and the largest office. Other offices are in Paris, Shanghai, and Beijing.

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Tokyo Office_ Designboom.com. (2022). _©Available at: https://static.designboom.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/kengo-kuma-studio-visit-2016-designboom-01.jpg
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Paris Office_ Archiexpo.com. (2022). _©Available at: https://img.archiexpo.com/images_ae/projects/images-g/designboom-visits-kengo-kuma-s-studio-paris-9039-9145448.jpg

The Paris office is in central Paris and was founded in 2008. The studio which is a loft space has an open plan that takes care of the growing team. There is also a book library and model storage space.

Core Values

Kengo Kuma believes that the building should be humble enough to let people in and not be too spectacular that people rethink before getting inside. He strongly believes in traditional Japanese architecture and the innovations around it. Developing buildings that are in harmony with their surroundings instead of relying on extravagant forms.

As a natural material, wood can never be flashy. Basically, he attempts to make buildings disappear or make them about little things. Kuma always uses traditional materials to connect with the architectural past and show his humble principles.

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Cedar Wood Structure_ Architizer.com. (2022). _© Available at: https://blog.architizer.com/wp-content/uploads/TUUB_148_DC36092_L.jpg

Kuma, even today, works in rural areas and on small-scale projects and is loyal to the people of small towns. Japanese architecture, in general, and Kuma’s work are characterized by the use of cedar wood almost exclusively. The wood weathers and ages with time, adding warmth and the scent of cedar to the space. In situations where solid surfaces are exposed to the human senses, they choose wood whenever the material is available.

Design Process

Kengo Kuma enjoys talking to craftsmen who help him decipher traditional architecture and art. He uses material of social and contextual values. The goal of his architectural practice is to enrich the connection between architecture and the environment because today, buildings are seen as man-made objects that inevitably stand apart from their natural environment.

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Models_ ArchDaily. (2022). Kengo Kuma Experiments with Materials at Manggha Museum Exhibition in Poland. _©Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/976508/kengo-kuma-experiments-with-materials-at-manggha-museum-exhibition-in-poland.

Project models explored in various scales and material for spatial understanding is one of the main design development tools of the firm. Humans are also added to models to understand the scale. Many of Kuma’s buildings seem simple at first glance but are, in fact, complex and use old materials, especially wood, to construct them.

In the initial stages, Kengo Kuma prefers discussing and drawing out ideas for the structural engineers and, later, the overall form of the building. He prefers choosing the material of the buildings from the early stages. He advocates that the material is not just the envelope but shows the true values of the building. The naturally sourced materials make the occupants feel safe and comfortable.

Some of His Notable Works

Under One Roof EPFL Artlab, Switzerland

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Under One Roof_ ArchDaily. (2016). Under One Roof / Kengo Kuma & Associates. _© Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/801503/under-one-roof-kengo-kuma-and-associates.

Built-in: 2013-2016

It has an art and science pavilion, an information gallery, and the Montreux Jazz Cafe. It is made from Larch wood, sourced locally from Switzerland. It has a 235-meter-long roof and angled blocks under it.

The GC Prostho Museum Research Center, Japan 

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The GC Prostho Museum Research Center_ ArchDaily. (2012). GC Prostho Museum Research Center / Kengo Kuma & Associates. _© Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/199442/gc-prostho-museum-research-center-kengo-kuma-associates.

Built-in: 2008-10

Chidori – a traditional Japanese toy that is assembled out of wooden sticks was the source of inspiration for the facade that has wooden clads. At night, the ten-meter-high building looks like a lantern because the light seeps from the wooden grid. There are exhibition spaces inside which also follow the same grid.

V&A Dundee, Scotland

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V and A Dundee_ Scotland. (n.d.). V&A Dundee | Scotland.org. _© Available at: https://www.scotland.org/about-scotland/scotlands-stories/va-dundee.

Built-in: 2010-18

In Dundee, Scotland, the VA&D museum sits on the edge of a cliff, kind of like a little extension of the famous Victoria & Albert Museum in London. The Museum is formed with horizontal concrete panels in two angular volumes and has gallery spaces inside.

The Exchange, Australia

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The Exchange, Ausrailia_ designboom | architecture & design magazine. (2020). kengo kuma wraps sydney’s ‘the exchange’ in sculptural timber screen. _© Available at: https://www.designboom.com/architecture/exchange-kengo-kuma-darling-sydney-australia-01-19-2020/.

Built-in: 2019

To make it recognizable from all sides and directions, the Exchange in Sydney’s East Darling Harbor was given a non-directional architectural form.  It has six stories wrapped in nest-like looking timber and a glazed ground floor. 

Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center, Tokyo

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Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center_ArchDaily. (2012). Asakusa Culture and Tourism Center / Kengo Kuma & Associates. _© Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/251370/asakusa-culture-and-tourism-center-kengo-kuma-associates.

Built-in: 2012

The building is located in the heart of Tokyo, and it mimics the five stories of a Pagoda. It has randomly spaced louvers and seven levels of extended eaves. This makes the building appear organic. 

References: 

designboom, shuhei senda I. (2017). kengo kuma studio visit and interview in tokyo. [online] designboom | architecture & design magazine. Available at: https://www.designboom.com/architecture/kengo-kuma-studio-visit-interview-tokyo-01-19-2017/ 

designboom, natasha kwok I. (2015). designboom visits kengo kuma’s studio in paris. [online] designboom | architecture & design magazine. Available at: https://www.designboom.com/architecture/kengo-kuma-studio-visit-paris-designboom-09-21-2015/

ArchEyes. (n.d.). Kengo Kuma Biography & Bibliography. [online] Available at: https://archeyes.com/architects/kengo-kuma-bibliography/.

‌ Kengo Kuma and Associates. (n.d.). Kengo Kuma | Offices. [online] Available at: https://kkaa.co.jp/en/about/kengo-kuma/.

Japan Objects. (n.d.). 10 Iconic Kengo Kuma Buildings You Should Visit. [online] Available at: https://japanobjects.com/features/kengo-kuma.

Journal. (2020). The Humble Revolution: Kengo Kuma’s Fight Against ‘Arrogant, Alienating’ Architecture – Architizer Journal. [online] Available at: https://architizer.com/blog/practice/materials/architecture-not-the-protagonist-kengo-kuma/.

Kengo Kuma’s Architecture of the Future. (2018). The New York Times. [online] 15 Feb. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/15/t-magazine/kengo-kuma-architect.html.

‌ Dezeen. (2021). Ten projects that showcase Kuma’s ‘substantial body of work’. [online] Available at: https://www.dezeen.com/2021/08/30/kengo-kuma-complete-works-book/.

Author

Netra is an architecture graduate who is passionate about all things design, loves to observe how spaces unfold while creating memories and enjoys putting thoughts into words with a design perspective.

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