DAMDAM

Conversations with

Kengo Kuma

BY GISELLE GO AND PHILIPPE TERRIEN

Photographed by Noa Nguyen

Recently, Philippe and I had the honor and pleasure to have a conversation with the great architect Kengo Kuma san at his Tokyo office.  We spoke about the importance of sustainability in architecture, his memorable projects, and upcoming works including the stadium he is designing for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. That conversation is now a story published in the South China Morning Post which you can read in full here.

I am also sharing a significant excerpt of the story below.

Nearly 20 years ago, Japanese architect Kengo Kuma completed his first project in China. Great (Bamboo) Wall, a residence in a forest next to the Great Wall of China, was built largely from the local sustainable material after which it was named. Kuma was also careful to build without excessive interference with the geographical features of the land.

The residence is designed as a tall fortification that echoes the ancient structure built along China’s historical northern borders. Instead of barricading the interiors from the outside world, however, Kuma san built the dwelling with poles spaced apart to create an architectural filter for light and wind.

The Great (Bamboo) Wall residence in Beijing photographed by Satoshi Asakawa is made of the sustainable material it was named after.

Inside the Great (Bamboo) Wall. Poles are spaced apart to create an architectural filter for light and wind.

Kuma san is an architect celebrated equally for his use of local natural materials and his increasing focus on sustainability, which has given his work relevance internationally.

For the 65-year-old architect, born in Yokohama and based in Tokyo, using bamboo is a symbol of cultural exchange between two countries; giant moso chiku bamboo was introduced in the 1700s to Japan from China via the Ryukyu kingdom (modern-day Okinawa).

Today, Kuma san is an architect celebrated equally for his use of local natural materials and his increasing focus on sustainability, which has given his work relevance internationally. His firm, Kengo Kuma & Associates (KKAA), has completed more than 20 projects in China since Great (Bamboo) Wall, and 60 per cent of the studio’s work now is outside Japan.

Still, 2020 will be a landmark year in Japan for the architect: the highly anticipated new National Stadium is nearing completion and will have its inauguration this December ahead of the 2020 Olympic Games. Designed by Kuma san and constructed by Tokyo-based firms Taisei and Azusa Sekkei, the 60,000-capacity stadium in Tokyo’s Kasumigaoka neighbourhood will host the games’ opening and closing ceremonies, and key athletic events next year.

Chatting with Kuma san at his Tokyo office. Photographed by Noa Nguyen.

He reinterprets traditional architectural elements for the 21st century by rethinking ways to use indigenous and reclaimed materials.

The design concept for the stadium started with native material. Wood is Kuma’s preferred medium, a reflection of his ethos to be in harmony with nature, not to dominate it. He reinterprets traditional architectural elements for the 21st century by rethinking ways to use indigenous and reclaimed materials. Cedar and larch collected from Japan’s 47 prefectures, including those affected by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, were used for the eaves.

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