Table Speech

Era of Place

Mr. Kengo Kuma

Mr. Kengo Kuma
Kengo Kuma and Associates

 Architectural design has transformed along with technological advances. History proves, however, that a much greater element has induced us to work on new architectures. Such element is “major catastrophes.” The 1755 Great Lisbon Earthquake, which claimed as many as 60,000 lives, changed the course towards urban development based on modern European architecture of concrete and steel. Another example was the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 that destroyed the entire city constructed with wood and bricks. Right after this fire, the architectural technology of the US overtook that of Europe and many skyscrapers were constructed in the early 20th century.

 The Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 killed 100,000 people as fires spread across Tokyo. This earthquake led to the revision of the Building Standards Act and had put Japan on the path towards modernization. Japan catches the world’s attention today regarding what kind of hazard-resistant construction will be formulated after experiencing the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 2011.

 I believe the new “era of place” is about to start. The post-Lisbon modern architecture used strong concrete throughout the world, leading to the so-called globalization of architecture. The Great East Japan Earthquake, however, taught us a lesson that “reinforcing construction with concrete does not give complete protection” because the force of nature is much more powerful.

 We must figure out a new solution. I foresee that architectural design will shift towards “respecting nature of places,” “utilizing environmentally friendly energy” and “using materials of the locality.”

 I have based my design on the theme of “place” for the past 10 years. I designed the “Kitakami Canal Museum” in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, which fortunately escaped the tsunami last March. This architecture is embedded underground at the Kitakami River bank and its physical boundary assimilates with the surrounding landscape.

[Musée Ando Hiroshige]
 Another landmark project I undertook was designing the Musée Ando Hiroshige (Tochigi, 2000). Ando Hiroshige was an ukiyo-e artist of the Edo period who gave much influence to Frank Lloyd Wright as well as architects in the West. The works of Hiroshige are characterized by his “affection towards nature.” This museum building blends into the surrounding nature, both visually and materially, as it is constructed with wood, stones and paper all supplied within the vicinity to boost the local economy.

[Suntory Museum of Art]
 The museum, located in a clamorous urban environment, aims to utilize the natural materials owned by Suntory, thus the wooden boards from the barrels are used for its floor, ceiling and walls.

[Nezu Museum]
 The museum makes extensive use of natural materials, including bamboo clad-walls and massive tiled roof. Designing the building to be integrated with the garden is a unique Japanese technique of distinguishing “places.”

[Kabuki-za Theater]
 I started designing the fifth Kabuki-za in 2007, which should be completed in April 2013. While I added a 29-story office tower behind, the theater itself retains the traditional design and atmosphere with excellent acoustic facility and comfortable wider seats.

[Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center]
 This wooden building looks like a stack of eight smaller buildings, to make you feel staying in a wooden house. The exterior timber columns are flame-resistant.

[Nagaoka City Hall, in Niigata]
 This unconventional city hall building, renovated in April, has the traditional “doma (gathering space with an earthen floor)” at the center, to serve as a meeting place for the community. Its roof makes extensive use of Echigo cedar from the locality.

[Great (Bamboo) Wall, China]
 I designed a house titled the “Great (Bamboo) Wall” at the side of the Great Wall, which blends into the surrounding landscape. This house attracted much attention when the TV commercial on the Beijing Olympics showed the house, and consequently, I am flooded with offers from China.

[Boutique Hotel in Beijing]
 This hotel has become extremely popular. This building also reuses materials taken from old Chinese buildings and re-sawn lumber.

[Besançon Art Center and Cité de la Musique, France]
 “Recapturing nature in architecture” was the theme of designing this multidisciplinary cultural center on the riverside of the Doubs that hosts an auditorium, a contemporary art museum and a Conservatoire. I retained the old building and covered it with a “green roof” with a rooftop garden and solar panels.

[FRAC Marseille, France]
 This modern art center will open in March 2013 and will serve as a main site hosting various cultural events throughout the year for visitors across the EU. The building uses recycled glass from the local industry, which resembles the traditional Japanese paper “washi” in its translucency.

[Granada Performing Arts Center, Spain]
 The building evokes the structure of a “pomegranate,” a symbolic fruit for Granada. The honeycomb grid is adopted for the opera theater, inspired by tradition of the Islamic architecture very present in the historic buildings of the city, most famously represented by the Alhambra Palace.

[Victoria and Albert Museum at Dundee, Scotland]
 Construction of this museum, also to be used as a music hall, is about to start. The project includes the museum building as well as public spaces around it, to reshape the waterfront of the Tay River into a space for both locals and visitors to enjoy.

[Hikari: Sustainable City based on the theme of light]
 Lyon Smart Community is a 20-year-project now progressing in France. I undertake designing energy-saving buildings with efficient utilization of sunlight. A group of three mixed-use buildings (office buildings, residential buildings and commercial facilities) will be constructed, using materials of stones and wood from around Lyon.

[High Speed Train Station at Susa, Italy]
 I have started designing a station, with a cultural facility added. The building will be constructed in the style of a local private residence with a slate roof.

 There are growing needs to use local materials to profit the local economy. Architectures around the world shift towards “utilizing the power of place to make local residents happy.” I believe we are entering an era where “place” plays the pivotal role.
(Note) The speech was made with the slide projection of the buildings. Please check the website for details: