Kauno Architektūros Festivalis
Undoubtedly one of the most well know and productive architects in Japan today, Kengo Kuma leads one of the biggest design-oriented architecture practices in Japan – Kengo Kuma and Associates (KKAA). His office is spanning across the globe with branches in Tokyo, Beijing, Shanghai, and Paris. While his projects can be found on every continent, Mr Kuma manages to maintain Japanese design ethos in every each of them. Projects often feature timber structural elements and patterns, a minimalist spatial approach, and precise details. On KKAA’s website, twenty-four projects were published in 2021 and thirty-three in 2020. That is over two projects every month. His most well know recent projects include Japan National Stadium, Asakusa Culture and Tourism Center (both in Tokyo), H.C. Andersen Hus Museum (Copenhagen), V&A Dundee (Dundee) and many others. Currently, he engages in several high-rise projects in North America. Striking productivity does not end in design, although less known outside Japan, Mr Kuma is a resolute writer constantly publishing books, articles and compiling his office newsletters as personal letters to the followers.
Mr. Kuma imagines work as continuous research where his projects are his research subjects. New things are constantly tested, and the best practices are passed on to new projects. This approach diverts from a more usual and more agonizing architectural approach where each project is seen as a final product, an end of the research after which new research must be started. This continuous Mr Kuma‘s attitude creates an evolving body of work where elements and details are recognizable and constantly improving. At the same time, while projects are unmistakably recognizable as KKAA’s work, they are always contextual. The context of V&A Dundee and Asakusa Culture and Tourism Center could not be more different; however, both projects are well integrated into their surroundings.
During his career spanning over three decades, Mr Kuma has experimented with many varied materials. In 1995 he designed a Water / Glass villa from… well, water and glass of course. While other projects featured stone, brick and concrete his ever-present material of choice is timber. Timber is an integral part of his design ethos. In the Japan National Stadium, timber was used as an important structural element. Wooden elements were designed in modules, so they could be easily replaced when necessary. In addition, wood has been sourced from all over Japan, following up on the tradition of the shrine construction. Smaller projects, pavilions, and interiors, even furniture feature timber. This attention to more sustainable construction materials has been on Mr Kuma’s radar long before it became a go-to material in the west.
In his latest book “Kengo Kuma – the complete works” he compares his passion for architecture to one of Haruki Murakami‘s passion for writing. For Murakami, short stories and long stories are equally important. In short stories, he experiments while in long stories he develops those newly tested ideas. Mr Kuma uses a similar approach – small-scale architecture is a testing ground for the ideas further developed in the big scale projects. Timber elements in Japan National Stadium are a reference to the experience gained working on the small-scale timber pavilions in the nineties. The design of the stone-clad Kadokawa Musashino Museum is based on the earlier experience collaborating with stonemasons.
It is hugely symbolic that Mr Kengo Kuma returns to the East-East project after 20 years after his first visit to Lithuania in 2002. The last 20 years have been immensely transformative for architecture. This creates an opportunity to reflect on the past, on the collaboration between Japan and Lithuania, and discuss together with a new generation of architects the future.