Book Review: Kengo Kuma: Selected Works

Kengo Kuma: Selected Works by Botond Bognar
Princeton Architectural Press, 2005
Paperback, 208 pages

his monograph by the well-known scholar of Japanese architecture Botond Bognar features 23 built works and one unbuilt project by someone the author defines as "an architect to be watched." But looking at the diverse range of projects collected here, the highly refined designs of Kengo Kuma exhibit a maturity that is impressive for an architect relatively young while coming of age in the difficult, post-Bubble era of his home country. The architect's introduction clearly explains his intention: "to 'erase' architecture, because I believe that a building should become one with its surroundings." While the default position may be to erase architecture via the use of glass walls, Kuma views this erasure in different ways - ways that have changed over the short course of his career - from fractured Postmodernism to "particlizing" to "digital gardening". This second method is what the architect is widely known for, particularly in built works like the Ando Hiroshige Museum and Stone Museum in Japan, and the Bamboo Wall Guest House in China. The use of slatted screens, mainly of wood and other natural materials, creates a more complex interaction of architecture and nature than clear glass (a material Kuma has also used to great effect), a device that may not achieve total erasure but one that has become a signature trademark in an ever-evolving architecture that's highly sensitive to place.