Monday, August 11, 2014

Kengo Kuma 1: Public Spaces

Kengo Kuma is a Japanese architect, born 1954. After graduating from the University of Tokyo in 1979 he worked for a while in large Japanese firms, then went to the U.S. to pursue graduate study in architecture at Columbia, eventually completing a Ph.D. He formed his own firm in 1990. He is now a professor of design as well as a practicing architect, following in the ancient Asian tradition of the scholar-artist.

Kuma's work fuses modernism with Japanese tradition. His work is spare, without ornamentation, and some of it simply looks modern to me. His large commercial buildings in particular leave me cold. But then many traditional Japanese buildings were infused with a minimal aesthetic, which is why western modernists loved Japanese art so much. Kuma said that in one of his designs he used "minimal material to think about deeper space."

Kuma makes much use of traditional Japanese materials like bamboo and cedar wood, and design elements such as translucent screens and slatted roofs. He recently described his aesthetic like this:
You could say that my aim is ‘to recover the place’. The place is a result of nature and time; this is the most important aspect. I think my architecture is some kind of frame of nature. With it, we can experience nature more deeply and more intimately. Transparency is a characteristic of Japanese architecture; I try to use light and natural materials to get a new kind of transparency.

Sometimes I think this works wonderfully. In this post I take up some of his public buildings, saving his private houses for another time. Below are pictures of one of his most beautiful creations, the Pavilion by the Great Wall in China, completed 2010:

Next, his Yusuhara Wooden Bridge Museum, created to connect two other museums. Kuma chose to use the ancient Asian technology of the cantilevered beam to hold up the bridge, and he put space for craft workshops along it. Because of his deep learning and traditional Japanese aesthetic, Kuma has received many commissions for historical museums, renovations and additions to historic buildings, and new buildings attached to attractions such as shrines.

And a bath house designed as an addition to an old and prestigious hot springs hotel. Kuma's work is designed with great environmental sensitivity, and he has won awards for energy efficiency as well as design. Many more pictures of his work at his firm's web site; my post on his private houses here.

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