Architect Spotlight: 12 Works by Japanese Architect Kengo Kuma

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By Jennifer Baum Lagdameo / Published by Dwell
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Having recently completed his first U.S. public commission in Portland—and with the stadium for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo underway—prolific and versatile Japanese architect Kengo Kuma is putting his stamp on the world of architecture.

Kuma's modernist interpretation of traditional Japanese architecture includes innovative uses of sustainable materials that aim to integrate structures into their surroundings. Take a look at these 12 projects that give a taste of what this prolific architect—with offices in both Tokyo and Paris—has accomplished so far.


Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center in Tokyo, Japan 

Located near the outer gate of the sixth-century Buddhist temple Sensō-ji in Tokyo's historic Asakusa district, the Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center references traditional Japanese construction by way of contemporary language. 

Resembling a stack of smaller structures with asymmetrical roofs, the verticality of the Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center reflects the liveliness of the vibrant neighborhood that surrounds it. 

Resembling a stack of smaller structures with asymmetrical roofs, the verticality of the Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center reflects the liveliness of the vibrant neighborhood that surrounds it. 

Xin Jin Zhi Museum Chengdu in Sichuan Province, China 

The theme of the Xin Jin Zhi Museum, located at the foot of Laojunshan Mountain—a holy place for Taoism—is light and water. The elegant structure appears to be draped with a curtain of floating tiles that allows the light to gently filter through during the day, while being beautifully illuminated at night. 

Locally-made tiles that are fixed tightly with stainless-steel wires create a curtain that covers the facade. 

Locally-made tiles that are fixed tightly with stainless-steel wires create a curtain that covers the facade. 

Komatsu Seirin Fabric Laboratory in Ishikawa, Japan  

The renovation of this three-story office building—which serves as the workspace, exhibition, and research facility for Japanese fabric manufacturer Komatsu Seiren—is unique in both its design and its innovative use of carbon fiber, which protects the structure from earthquakes. 

The cutting edge earthquake resistance technology uses carbon fiber and draws inspiration from a technique of braiding ropes which is indigenous to this part of Japan. The fiber rod is said to be ten times stronger than iron—and this was the first time that this material has been used as a means of reinforcement against earthquakes. 

The cutting edge earthquake resistance technology uses carbon fiber and draws inspiration from a technique of braiding ropes which is indigenous to this part of Japan. The fiber rod is said to be ten times stronger than iron—and this was the first time that this material has been used as a means of reinforcement against earthquakes. 

LVMH Headquarters in Osaka, Japan

The Louis Vuitton Japan Group’s headquarters in Osaka is a complex multi-use building that's comprised of boutiques and offices. The structure has been encased in a thin layer of stone, which glows at night like a ‘luminous box of stone’ that's placed amidst the bustle of downtown Osaka.

The external walls of the LVMH headquarters in Osaka were fabricated from onyx plates sourced from Pakistan, which were sliced down to four millimeters thick before being sandwiched between glass plates. 

The external walls of the LVMH headquarters in Osaka were fabricated from onyx plates sourced from Pakistan, which were sliced down to four millimeters thick before being sandwiched between glass plates. 

Aitoku Kindergarden in Saitama, Japan 

Kuma's design for an early childhood education center in the suburbs of Tokyo uses multiple pitched roofs made of wood and steel that are placed at different angles to reflect the landscape of the town—creating a cozy learning environment for the children. 

The multiple pitched roof design of Aitoku Kindergarden reflects the city scape—with each angled roof expressing the natural rhythm of a town. 

The multiple pitched roof design of Aitoku Kindergarden reflects the city scape—with each angled roof expressing the natural rhythm of a town. 

SunnyHills at Minami-Aoyama in Tokyo, Japan

Kuma's patisserie for SunnyHills, a popular Taiwanese pineapple cake company, resembles a nest-like structure that's nestled in the fashionable Omotesando neighborhood of Tokyo.

Using a traditional Japanese construction called "Jigoku Gumi,"  Kuma created a nest-like structure out of Hinoki (Japanese cypress), which enables natural light to stream into the cafe—creating a bright and airy interior.

Using a traditional Japanese construction called "Jigoku Gumi,"  Kuma created a nest-like structure out of Hinoki (Japanese cypress), which enables natural light to stream into the cafe—creating a bright and airy interior.

Green Cast in Odawara-shi, Kanagawa, Japan 

The facade of Green Cast—a mixed-use building in the Kanagawa Prefecture—is composed of aluminum die-cast planters made with monobloc casting, which have been arranged to keep the interiors cool while still allowing natural daylight and ventilation to pass through. 

Irrigation and ventilation systems have been installed behind the panels so that the facade can accommodate the building's comprehensive system.

Irrigation and ventilation systems have been installed behind the panels so that the facade can accommodate the building's comprehensive system.

Yufeng Spa Resort in Yunnan Province, China

Located outside of Tengchong in Yunnan Province, China, the Yufeng Spa Resort's proximity to Yunfengshan—considered to be a holy mountain in Taoism—served as inspiration for the project. In reverence to this sacred spot, Kuma arranged the buildings as if they were following the current of the "spirit" coming down from the mountain.

Different kinds of local stones were sourced from a nearby quarry and put together like a mosaic, resulting in an almost pixelated effect. 

Different kinds of local stones were sourced from a nearby quarry and put together like a mosaic, resulting in an almost pixelated effect. 

Mont-Blanc Base Camp in Les Houches, France

Designed to be the headquarters and business incubator for Blue Ice, a company specializing in products for climbing and mountaineering, the site sits at the foot of Aiguille du Midi and Mont-Blanc. In order for the architecture and its surrounding forests to better integrate into the environment, the facade of the building was made to resemble trees in the forest with the use of thick oak panels. 

The wide and grand roof of the structure is composed of oak planks that are designed to harmonize with the terrain. 

The wide and grand roof of the structure is composed of oak planks that are designed to harmonize with the terrain. 

Nezu Museum of Art in Tokyo, Japan 

Tucked behind a row of bamboo and just steps away from an upscale shopping district in the center of Tokyo, the Nezu Museum successfully merges the city with nature.

Surrounded by a garden and featuring a bamboo lined approach, the Nezu Museum's unique roof design blends the interior space with the garden. 

Surrounded by a garden and featuring a bamboo lined approach, the Nezu Museum's unique roof design blends the interior space with the garden. 

Portland Japanese Garden Cultural Village, Oregon 

Kuma’s appreciation for traditional Japanese design principles—and how they remain relevant in today’s modern world—made him an ideal match for the recently completed Cultural Village expansion project of the Portland Japanese Garden. 

The expansion of the Portland Japanese Garden—the most authentic Japanese Garden outside of Japan—references the traditional Japanese architecture of the Katsura Villa in Kyoto. All of the glass walls and wooden screens open to create a total integration of architecture and nature in the urban forest of the Northwest Hills of Portland. 

The expansion of the Portland Japanese Garden—the most authentic Japanese Garden outside of Japan—references the traditional Japanese architecture of the Katsura Villa in Kyoto. All of the glass walls and wooden screens open to create a total integration of architecture and nature in the urban forest of the Northwest Hills of Portland. 

Japan National Stadium in Tokyo, Japan 

An homage to the design of traditional Japanese temples, Kuma's plan for the Japan National Stadium was chosen for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics amidst a bit of controversy. The Prime Minister of Japan scrapped plans to award the project to Zaha Hadid, in favor of a homegrown talent. 

Currently in the works: Kuma's work on the Portland Japanese Garden was said to have inspired his 'urban forest' concept for the Japan National Stadium. The oval structure incorporates plants and trees on every level,  a large oculus above the track, and a latticed larch-and-steel canopy.

Currently in the works: Kuma's work on the Portland Japanese Garden was said to have inspired his 'urban forest' concept for the Japan National Stadium. The oval structure incorporates plants and trees on every level,  a large oculus above the track, and a latticed larch-and-steel canopy.


Stay tuned for our coverage of Kuma's new stateside project that's coming soon to Dwell.