|2004 Spring - Architects Intro - Toshiko Mori - H-Sang Seung - Kengo Kuma - Yung Ho Chang
photography of Plastic House by Mitsumasa Fujitsuka / photography of Great (Bamboo) Wall House by Satoshi Asakawa
||Born in Kanagawa Prefecture in 1954, he established Kengo Kuma & Associates in 1990. His numerous residential works, museums, and other public facilities have received on-going critical acclaim and have won him several national and international awards including the prestigious Architectural Institute of Japan Award in 1997. Recent projects include the LVMH Group Japan headquarters completed in 2003, Suntory's new Tokyo office building, and the Kodan apartments scheduled for completion this year. In addition to his professorship at Keio University's Faculty of Science and Technology since 2001, he frequently lectures at other institutions. Also devoted to his writing activities, he is the author of five books including the best-selling Shin Kenchiku Nyumon (New Introduction to Architecture; 1994). He is a leading lecturer and writer on contemporary Japanese architectural theory.
Web site: www.02.so-net.ne.jp (in Japanese and English)
In this photo, architect Kengo Kuma poses with the fashion photographer/client for whom he designed the Plastic House (2002).
Making magic with materials and light
text by Azby Brown
The work of architect Kengo Kuma is one of modulation: of light and shadow, of physical response to materials, of flexibility and specific reactions to specific sites. Winner of the Finnish Spirit of Nature Wood Architecture Award in 2002, he has used wood extensively and innovatively. But he is by no means a "wood" architect exclusively; glass, bamboo, stone, plastic, and metal all enter his hands as mundane entities and emerge with heightened identities. As Kuma himself has noted, "The most interesting architectural possibility is living in contact with materials."
Though much of Kuma's work has been the design of public buildingsquite a few museums and exhibition spaces in particularhe has produced a number of notable houses as well. One, the Great (Bamboo) Wall House outside Beijing, 2002, near the original Great Wall itself, is part of a groundbreaking development by Chinese tycoon Pan Shi Yi, who brought together 12 leading architects from across Asia. Kuma's house is built on several gently dispersed, open levels that abstract the verticality of the existing landscape. A straight, two-story wall of vertical bamboo forms the main facade, and though it conforms to the undulating ground at its base (like the Great Wall), Kuma sliced it off in a perfectly straight, horizontal line at the top, a sort of tongue-in-cheek critique of its ancestor.
A similar wall of bamboo meanders through the house like a porous screen, generating a play of light and shadow that owes much of its resonance to the historical familiarity of bamboo in the Asian home. It separates one zone from another while affording glimpses of spaces beyond. A central feature of the project is a two-story skylit space, actually an exterior roomenclosed by bamboo walls on three sidesthat seems to float over a shallow pool. The permeability of the bamboo walls allows the space to be sensed from within the rest of the house, and occupants can see through it to the landscape outside. This room is a beautiful reinterpretation of a lakeside scholar's hut of old, affording solitude and contemplation as well as lively stimulation. The Great (Bamboo) Wall House is a handsome and successful exploration of the possibilities that lie ahead for new forms of dwellings on the Chinese mainland.
||Sublime space in Kunga's Great (Bamboo) Wall House.
The Plastic House in Tokyo, 2002, is articulated by similar rhythms, but lies a world apart conceptually. Designed for a leading photographer, his wife, and child, and featuring an apartment for his mother, this two-story-plus-basement house was squeezed into a typical narrow rectangular Tokyo lot. Much of its overall outline is a direct response to sunlight-maximizing building codes, and it nestles very close to its neighbors in the standard urban Japanese fashion. Yes, it is made largely of plastic: Translucent, golden green fiberglass forms the exterior walls, stairs, and slatted screen walls that define key spaces, lending the interior a pleasant glow during the daytime and a lanternlike ambience at night. In this sense, it is very Japanese: traditional in an unexpected way, synthetic but organically textured.
The first floor is an open, loftlike space that serves as kitchen, dining, and living room, as well as a studio space for fashion shoots that require a domestic atmosphere. One entire wall is given over to storage, acres of it. The entire streetside wall is a pair of sliding glass doors and a fine little garden with a levitating deck lies at the rear. This deck is composed of fiberglass slats that allow light into the dry-garden lightwell below. Similar slats enclose the garden and give the neighbors something unusual to look at.
||Open living areas distinguish the Plastic House. The use of fiberglass-reinforced polymer (FRP) louvers creates a soft light throughout the dwelling.
The basement is devoted to the mother's apartment, with a bedroom and study, a handsome private bath, and a kind of private gallery for antique glassware. The second floor houses a pair of bedrooms and the master bath. This room is reportedly the couple's favorite space, due to its intriguing overhead window, which crisply frames a square of sky in the manner seen in works by artist James Turrell.
A boxlike terrace projects from the front of the house, affording a small balcony for the master bedroom. It might seem a gratuitous detail until one goes out onto the spacious roof garden, where it becomes apparent that the box frames a view of Mount Fuji. This is a very inward-looking and protective-feeling house overall, offering a lot of privacy despite its openness. Through gestures like the sky window and the Fuji frame, Kuma anchors it firmly to the planet outside.
Articles from the 2004 SPRING issue:
Kateigaho International Edition Issues:
2005 SUMMER - 2005 SPRING - 2005 WINTER
2004 AUTUMN - 2004 SUMMER - 2004 SPRING - 2004 WINTER
2003 AUTUMN - INAUGURAL ISSUE