Found a couple of interviews Via FiveFootWay, ArtKrush and DesignBoom
Five Footway Interview
Sept 2, 2008
Established Japanese architect, Prof. Kengo Kuma was in Singapore as part of the Distinguished Lecturer Series organised by the National University of Singapore in conjunction with the 50th Anniversary of the Department of Architecture. Scheduled to speak about the subject of “Anti-Object”, Kuma’s lecture was filled to the brim with students and architects alike.
Prof. Kengo Kuma spoke to FIVEFOOTWAY.com before the lecture and chats about the state of Architecture today.
From Contrast to Blending in
“Architecture in the 20th Century was very much about creating contrast between the building and its context but in the 21st Century, buildings should blend in with its environment.” Those were the words of Prof. Kuma as he speaks about what his architecture is attempting to do. True to those words, the works of Prof. Kuma has never been about making a loud architectural statement but rather, a quiet calming presence that seems to live with harmony with its surroundings.
In his opinion, architecture must not be an object, but merely a device for the framing of life and the environment. Prof. Kuma takes great care in ensuring that his buildings achieve this and it is best manifested in his meticulous attention to details. “The typical size of the materials that are used matter”, says Kengo Kuma. “If it is too big, it will destroy the harmony with the environment. If it’s too small, it will disappear instead of blending into the environment”.
Search for the Local
When asked, Prof. Kuma also expressed his concern that cities are “becoming too similar” and if this is the eventual effect of globalization on cities around the world then he feels that it is “a tragedy”. Prof. Kuma proposes that because of this, it is even more important for architects to learn how to search for the distinguishing local element in every site.
While this might perhaps be easier in less developed areas it is not entirely impossible for dense urban areas. Prof. Kuma feels that the idea of the local can still exist even in cities such as Tokyo or Singapore. “One needs to observe the city carefully, break down the city into smaller districts and look for the local elements”.
Prof. Kuma believes that going local is not a romantic concept but rather one that makes economic and design sense.Â “The material that can be obtained from the site is perhaps the material that is best acclimatized to the local climate. Also, when these materials come from local sources, it reduces the transportation costs incurred.”, he adds.
When asked what he ‘felt’ about in Singapore, Prof. Kuma responded that he was most impressed by the co-existence of the dense urban developments and lush greenery.
He also added that such dense development have significant advantages when it comes to creating a sustainable environment. This, he proposes, is the way forward for cities as we realize the folly of sprawling suburbanisation
And to the quality of these dense buildings that we have in Singapore today, he said that while they are efficient, there is nothing special about them, a point that would perhaps be applicable to a large majority of the buildings standing today. Perhaps one day, if Prof Kuma were to get a commission to build in Singapore, he could realise his dream of “building a new kind of high-rise”.Â To extrapolate from his Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey headquarters where he utilised wooden mullions for a building in metropolitan Tokyo, it would definitely be interesting to see how Prof. Kuma would deal with the Singapore context.
After the short interview, Prof. Kengo Kuma proceeded in delivering his lecture to the eager crowd. His pulling power was there for all to see as architects took time off their busy schedule to return to the University for the lecture. Enthusiastic students crowded round the aisles and steps of the theater and those who couldn’t fit into the room had to be content with a space in the next room where the lecture was telecasted live.
During the lecture proper, Prof. Kengo Kuma presented his range of projects to demonstrate his design principles manifested in practice. With his witty remarks, Prof. Kuma shared with the audience his thought processes and ideas that were embedded within his designs. In particular, his detail of including sprinkler heads within the wooden facade of the LV building in Tokyo to work around the city regulations were greeted with amusement and a nod in agreement to this man’s brilliance.
Prof. Erwin Viray perhaps summed it up the best in his closing remarks, citing Kengo Kuma as an example of an architect who has the uncanny ability to use architecture to evoke a romantic atmosphere without being overly nostalgic and he does this with a solid grounding in an understanding of tradition, materiality and technology.
Jan 9, 2008
AK: What motivated you to become an architect?
KK: I was born in a very old, traditional-style home, which prompted my interest in architecture. My house was quite different from my friends' houses, and I learned something from that difference.
AK: Was there any one person or architectural style that influenced your early work?
KK: When I started out, I was very much influenced by the style of Frank Lloyd Wright. He, in turn, had been inspired by traditional Japanese architecture, so maybe a long cycle of Japanese traditions came back to me through Wright.
AK: What was your first building to receive critical acclaim?
KK: The first building to get a lot of attention was a small villa/bathhouse in the Izu Pennisula that was completed in 1988. It had a hot spring — water is very important to me, and most of my buildings are situated near water or incorporate water into their interiors.
AK: How have you best used traditional materials?
KK: In contrast with the technological architecture of the 20th century, traditional Japanese architecture is ecological and Shinto-oriented, and its methods can guide current architectural practices. In using certain materials, I'm returning to tradition to capture something of its aesthetic perspective.
AK: What is your most dynamic project utilizing modern technology?
KK: I try to combine traditional materials and modern technology in most of my projects — with technology, those materials can have a new life. A recent example is a teahouse at the Museum für Angewandte Kunst (Museum for Applied Art) in Frankfurt. It's an inflatable structure that's only visible when it's in use. Otherwise, it rests underground.
AK: Which of your projects best communicates your spatial concepts?
KK: The Hiroshige Museum is one of my favorite buildings. Hiroshige was an ukiyo-e artist from the 19th century, and Frank Lloyd Wright was a collector of his art. I tried to translate Hiroshige's artistic philosophy into a modern building while using local materials. I drew from aspects of Wright's practice in integrating the building with its surrounding landscape.
AK: How do you acquaint yourself with a site before considering a design for the building?
KK: I can't get anything by just looking at drawings and photos, so when I start a project, I always spend time at a site to try to understand its changing nature — such as the variations of light and wind. Through this active, physical experience, I can gain some inspiration for the building.
AK: How do you prefer to visualize your designs?
KK: I must say that I don't trust computer graphics. Computer graphics are tools of presentation, but not tools of design. I much prefer models; I can sit in front of a model, close my eyes, and imagine myself inside the space. For me, computer graphics lack some integral texture.
AK: How do you develop your design concepts with your staff?
KK: I always try to find key words for each design. For the Dellis Cay project, the key word is "roof" — it's important to highlight the roof's relationship to the landscape.
AK: Do you prefer large-scale or small-scale projects?
KK: I like working both ways. I get stymied if I'm only doing big projects, and, vice versa, only working on small projects can get frustrating, too. To go back and forth between large- and small-scale projects is important for the firm to remain aesthetically flexible.
AK: You've designed several museums in Japan. How is the challenge of building a museum different from building a residence or a commercial structure?
KK: The space of a museum is very pure. In a commercial building, there are many noises and other distractions that disturb the relationship between people, objects, and spatial environment; in a museum, the interplay between those things is much more immediate and transparent, and the building design must mitigate and direct that interaction.
AK: What kind of ambience do you try to achieve in a space?
KK: I like shadows. In Western architecture, the contrast of light and shadow is a theme of design that dates back to Greek and Egyptian architecture. That contrast is very important in modernist designs, as in the work of Le Corbusier. In Japanese architecture, the hierarchy of the shadow is also very important; Junichiro Tanizaki pointed it out in his book In Praise of Shadows. A theme of my design is the creation of many kinds of shadows — deep shadows, light shadows, sharp shadows, etc.
AK: What is the relationship between architect and client?
KK: For me, conversation with a client is tantamount because my method is an intellectual method. Through conversation, we can begin to discover the underlying concept for a project, which varies from one building to another. That's the difference between the architectural practices of my generation and the last. For example, Tadao Ando applies the same fundamental idea to every project. All of my projects look different because they're shaped in part by the client.
AK: How has your work evolved over the years?
KK: Architecture is an art of condition. If the condition changes, the architecture should change, as well. My architecture is like an animal; it's always adapting.
AK: What kind of non-architectural experiences have influenced your work?
KK: Any kind of experience can influence my work. For example, when I'm in a hot-spring bath, I often think of designs because my body is suddenly open to everything. That kind of relaxation is important.
AK: Are there certain materials that inspire you more than others?
KK: I like natural, weak materials that require concerted human attention to their use. For instance, rice paper is very delicate, so people need to take care of it. A closer relationship can develop between fragile materials and the human body; in that way, those materials are more productive than strong materials. Concrete is a strong material so we don't need to consider it very carefully.
KK: I'm building a spa on a lagoon. I first inspected the island from the ocean, but the lagoon is hidden away, and over the course of a few visits, I drew a lot of inspiration from it.
KK: It's a good group because we're all quite different. Our contrasts can only emphasize the individual sense of my design with nature and the environment. Together, we can stimulate each other by using different approaches to this tender landscape.
November 4th, 2005.what is the best moment of the day?
when I'm driving from my house to the office.
I have a convertable, I can feel the winds of the morning...
and when I see the green leaves, the big trees I feel the
atmosphere is good.
what kind of music do you listen to at the moment?
I have some musician friends, ryuichi sakamoto.
we have a similar philosophy, some kind of shared
sensibility, I love his music.
do you listen to the radio?
what books do you have on your bedside table?
at home I don't read books, but one of my favorite
books is about the history of china and japan.
I'm designing buildings for the small cities and towns of
china, japan and sometimes korea. I would like to
know the history of these places, because the design of
a building should have some connection to the history of that place.
I am very interested in the histories of places.
do you read architecture and design magazines?
(he is sitting in front of a huge collection of design/architecture
where do you get your news from?
most important information comes from my friends.
the news from the media is official, but from my friends
I can feel the delicate truth.
I assume you notice how women are dressing,
do you have any preferences?
I like traditional clothes.
a kimono is traditional, but it's a very formal tradition,
I prefer rural or more informal clothing that is deeply connected
with real life, like the trousers japanese women wore before
world war II...
are there any clothes you would avoid wearing?
I dont like to wear a tie, because a tie constricts my body.
somebody said that a tie decreases the length of our life by ten years,
this is why the average life of ladies is ten years longer.
do you have pets?
no. I like animals but I don't have time to take care of them.
when you were a child did you always want to be
after 1964 I wanted to be an architect.
before I wanted to be a vetenarian.
at age 10, a big influence was experiencing kenzo tange’s
buildings for the 1964 tokyo olympics.
also my father was a collector of bruno taut designs and he was
very much interested in architecture.
where do you work on your designs and projects?
the most important time is the discussion with my staff.
that usually happens when I'm in the office in front of the models,
or in front of the sketches. this kind of communication can create
who would you like to design something for?
I would like to design a museum, but my ideal project would
be to rebuild downtown tokyo, the past tokyo, to rebuild it
with the streets, trees, all on a human scale.
do you discuss your work with other architects?
yes, with toyo ito, his office is close to mine.
also with kazuyo sejima, she teaches in the same university as me.
describe your style, like a good friend of yours
would describe it.
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
what project has given you the most satisfaction?
there are many.
the most recent was a pavillion for the french champagne
maker 'krug. I designed a moveable dome using a shape-memory
alloy that grows or shrinks depending on ambient temperature.
the dome is always moving. it has always been my dream
that architecture can be like animal, living...
can you describe an evolution in your work,
from your first projects to the present day?
when I was young I thought that concrete was the only material
to create rational and economic buildings,
but now I prefer using natural light and natural materials.
before 1990 I was working mainly in tokyo, but after the
economies crashed, I worked in the countryside and started to
collaborate with the local craftsmen. I learned many things from these carpenters. now I want to recover the japanese tradition, not of 'monuments', but of 'weaker' buildings.
are there any architects from the past
you appreciate a lot?
two architects: frank llyod wright - he learned many things
from the japanese and he is a bridge between japanese
culture and modernism. another example is bruno taut.
he also visited japan. he wrote a book about japanese girders
what current architects do you appreciate?
I am interested mainly in the work of european architects
and the designers from finland and the north of europe.
especially the work of furniture and industrial designers, it's very
important because they are always thinking of the relationship
between the human body and tools.
sometimes architects forget that.
any advice for the young?
I always suggest to go to site and communicate
with the craftsmen directly. the site is the inner source
of creation. in our studios we are separated from nature
and we are separated from the construction.
yes, I'm afraid of the future of japan, this means japan is
facing times of depression / maturity. from the 1950s to the
1980s we have been expanding but now we are facing a decline.
the japanese should not be afraid of that kind of recession
because this period can be a time of real creation.
in the time of expansion there is less consideration for quality
but during recession we have to concentrate and can create a real
treasure, that is a lesson of history.
Just like the Scarpa documentaries, there are a few decent documentaries of Barragan, but understandably so, only in spanish. I'm working on finding someone to translate.
Q. Your architecture discourse covers a range of tipping points for the realms of - cultural philosophy, environmental psychology theories of architecture and the arts- how would you define the practice of architecture today?
A. I have always been interested in different things and I am unwilling to acknowledge or fear boundaries; usually the most interesting new things emerge at the boundaries. This overall interest in phenomena of life and knowledge arise from my childhood experiences at my farmer grandfather’s solitary and humble farm in Finland during the war years in the 1940s. In those days every farmer had to know a lot of things and master numerous skills in order to survive – the only specialists were the priest and the black smith. My sense of curiosity is a farmer’s interest in the land, weather and the incredible richness of life and besides, maintaining your sense of curiosity is probably the best way of fighting the negative consequences of aging.
In today’s world, architectural practice has broken into countless specializations and turned into a professionalist business. I personally continue to see architecture in wide humanistic and non-professionalist terms, as a rewarding journey through life. For me, architecture is still a means of confronting the great enigma of human existence. Of course, on a practical level, the task of architecture is to create places and spaces for specific purposes, but more importantly, architecture creates frames and horizons of perception and understanding, the understanding of the historicity and continuity of culture and things, human institutions, relationships, and finally, understanding oneself.
Q. Continuing on the similar thread, with your double edged exposure to academics and practice please share the importance in taking detours in earning/ experience process. Is there a role play of architectural pedagogy in architectural development?
A. I have always found it important to learn from other disciplines: the visual arts, sciences, cinema, literature, poetry, philosophy etc. This is my personal “paracentric” understanding of architecture. Architecture and arts are primarily about human life and there is no better education for that dimension than reading novels.
In my role as a teacher, I am primarily concerned with the self-awareness and self-identity of each individual student. The primary role of education is to set the student’s soul on fire and to evoke a sense of curiosity and responsibility. The task of education is to teach the student to see, experience and think. Most of the professional skills are achieved later through professional practice. Without the appropriate mind-set and horizon, professionalist education is useless.
Q. How important are detours in the shaping of a practice. Please share with us experiences and some significant practices that exemplify them.
A. Architecture is, of course, practiced in a multitude of ways, particularly if you consider cultural differences. The colleagues of mine around the world that I mostly admire, such as Glenn Murcutt, Renzo Piano, Sverre Fehn, Colin St.John Wison, Peter Zumthor, Steven Holl, Frank Gehry etc. are/were all very widely interested in the entire spectrum of human culture. Particularly the interaction of arts and architecture, the role of the crafts and the art of clear thinking are important.
Q. Do share the essence of the ‘Global’ Practice today...
A. I do not consider my practice at all a “global practice”, although I have done some projects in various countries. I have never been interested to expand my practice beyond my own country and the studio size of my office. My writings seem to have found a surprisingly wide readership, but that is another matter. I never sought to have a wide readership, either, I just write what and when I am asked to. As I am writing, I am thinking of some of my wisest and most critical friends; they are my imaginary readers and public – I write for my friends in my imagination.
Q. How does patronage play a role in the evolution of architecture? What takes priority at the time of decision making - a client’s priority or an architects’ ambition from the project. Especially in the context of detours and experiments in design it would be wonderful if you could examine the above with project experiences?
A. As the American poet Walt Whitman said: “Great poetry is possible only if there are great readers”. In architecture, likewise, enlightened clients and occupants have an equally important role. However, a profound architect needs to identify himself fully with his/her client/user and design for this internalised other. It is the architect’s duty to project a vision of a better world and make the client understand and desire this vision. Profound architecture arises from ideals of a better world and more responsible, sensitive, perceptive and compassionate humankind. A profound design process eventually makes the patron, the architect and every occasional visitor in the building a slightly better human being. “Be like me”, is the subliminal ethical message of every great piece of poetry, as Joseph Brodsky, the Nobel laureate poet argues, and the same applies to architecture. Or, as another master poet, Rainer
Maria Rilke writes: “Art is not only a little selective sample of the world; it is a transforming of the world, an endless transformation towards the good”.
Q. Any other directions and advice that you would like to exemplify for “Paracentric Practices” for our readers. .
A. At the same time that we need to expand the realm of architecture, we need to focus on its very cultural and mental essence, the existential core of the art of architecture. At times when architecture or any art form, looses its meaning and emotive power, one must go back to the origins, the source of mental meaning. Architecture must have a double focus: it is about the world and life, but it is simultaneously about the eternal essence of architecture itself.