My story with Kengo Kuma

I had extreme honor and pleasure to meet esteemed architect Kengo Kuma and exchange ideas, experiences just as I was embarking on a path of becoming entrepreneur and establishing my own architectural studio.

Kengo  Kuma , Japanese architect was  born in  1954 in Yokohama, today he  runs  the Bureau Kengo  Kuma and  Associates  in Tokyo  and  Paris. At the same time he is regular professor at Tokyo University. Behind him are many, many projects more than I want to count. For the time being I’m bringing some of the photos here.

Luckily for me I have met him twice to talk about architecture. The second time was in his Tokyo office. It  was the  opportunity  to make  an  interview   with  him,  parts of  it I  will pass on. I  was  really  attracted  by  his  work,  mainly  by  his idea  in  each  project  that  has  a  thread  from  the  beginning  to  end.

Kengo Kuma does what I wrote earlier about, he creates space and not an object. He takes the material and shapes it to the form of space  that   will  suit  the internal  needs and  urban  context. Allowing the space to “ flow” across  the  facade which almost  always  becomes a  junction point  not the  separation  of the  inner of  outer  space.  In the essence, each project is a human being and it doesn’t matter whether it’s in front or behind the facade. Look at the photos of the Frac house in Marseille and everything will be clear.

You may often wonder where the artist finds the inspiration to make one piece of art. I asked myself in Kuma’s case. I asked him how his growing up was and life in traditional Japanese home and did it influence his architectural route. The complete answer is below.

“My house was very different from the friends’ houses. I was born in the town of Yokohama a kind of suburbs of Tokyo. In year 1954, when I was born the Japanese suburbs were in development. They resembled the American suburb, a at home-cake. Most of my friends lived in such houses.  My  grandfather,  who  was a  doctor, he has built our house as  a country, weekend  house in  1920’s while  he was  living in Tokyo. Until I was of age fifteen I didn’t like it (my house).

It was a great shame for me to live in such a house.   Gradually  I  changed my  mind.  I started liking the natural texture of the dirt walls, wooden picture frames, walls made by rice paper. In its basis, the house wasn’t clean”, wasn’t sophisticated, but I started liking the roughness of these materials. This was the beginning of my career as an architect”

Commitment to these materials, is shown in his  projects 26 years later done by Kengo   Kuma  and  Associates.

It’s   fascinating, how  inexhaustible  is  this topic  and  I’m going to talk about it  in some  upcoming posts. Here, I would like to tell you a story about something that appeals to material.  It’s   light and   shadow.  Kengo Kuma used these elements very skillfully. Even  though  many  designers  and  architects  talk about  them, in  his objects  you  can clearly feel the  planning of the relations  between the  light and  shadow.

Hopefully you understand  my  desire to  explore the work of  this Japanese architect  because  playing with light in  architecture is perhaps the  hardest feature to master. At the same time emotion that area produces depends extensively on the light. Just think about spaces you visited and immediately you said that they are dark. How did you feel there?  And  how  did  you  feel in the space where the  beams protrude through the  openings projected in  such a  way  that the  sun gets into the space? What impression did the entrance leave on you?

I think of the day light and shadow as architectural materials, because without these materials I can’t imagine the space.

The space is the contact point of these materials   lights and shadows.  I like using the small elements little bits of that always creates a shadow. The shadow gives a sense of harmony between the space and the human being. The human body remembers that feeling. The shadow gives the sense of security. That is very important.

Namely, when  the  material and  the  light meet in  a  specific  area, only then I  can create  something.

We  had the  discussion over a  cup of  green  tea and  the  tea ceremony is  a  Japanese tradition and  very  essential  point to  the  understanding of  the  Japanese culture and  the master would not be master of  that if  in  the  whole  story  is not  added and  the fourth dimension of  space.

“The  tea ceremony is  a  ceremony in  a  limited small area. We can learn a  lot  of things from the  tea ceremony- how little space is  uses,  how  to combine it  with the  larger elements  and  the like.

This is also an important element of the tea ceremony. By itself represents a long time sequence- our approach to home, entering through a small door, entering the masters of the tea ceremony. Tea ceremony is a design time. That is what is important.

The  problem  is that an architect thinks he is designing the  space , but  in  fact he  should also design space and time in  the  tea  ceremony.”

Conversation we  had after was published on the  four  sides of  the  magazine in  A4 format so that this post a  little  to pass on  everything but  the elements  and  themes  which we  touched on  will surely pass in the  coming posts.


Vladimir Savčić