LVMH in Osaka, Japan by Kengo Kuma

Undertaking the design of boutique and office project for Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH) in Osaka, Japan, Kengo Kuma used the exterior wall as a starting point for exploration. Given what he calls the "dichotomic technique of wall (opaque) versus window (transparent)," he opted to blur these distinctions by wrapping the office floors in a continuous skin of stone that from the exterior appears opaque during the day but much different at night.

Using stone in three thicknesses and with three techniques, Kuma was able to achieve his desired effect. Onyx is the stone of choice, most likely for its superior powers of light transmittance, even at thicknesses that others stones fail to admit light. A 4mm (1/8") thick piece is sandwiched between glass, like a laminate. A 30mm (1") is an onyx pattern printed onto glass. Lastly, A 75mm (3") onyx is "transcribed onto a 75 mm-thick PET film." Combined with the natural imperfections of stone, these three variations create subtle changes around the building.

Sitting atop a metal panel and glass, multi-story base, the office entry is signaled by a vertical strip of onyx that reaches the ground level. Here the onyx is even used for the simple canopy overhead. Moving inside, the elevator lobby is covered with the same stone: the walls, ceiling, and floor. Only the stainless steel doors, frames, base, and fittings break up the stone womb. It's like something out of a Stanley Kubrick film. The elevator lobbies on the upper floors provide some relief in the walls, ceilings, and floors.

The typical office floors tend to exhibit the changes in the stone thicknesses and techniques more than the exterior. Perhaps this owes to the lower light levels inside or the fact that the mullions are only on the interior, a detail that gives the exterior its flat surface. Regardless, the sensation is unlike any other work environment, even if the floors and ceiling are more typical in their treatment. The stone admits light during the day while also allowing views through certain pieces. Rather than only responding to wall/window and opaque/transparent techniques, Kuma has also responded to fully-glazed curtain wall construction that is just as ubiquitous. In this design, he's discovered a technique that falls somewhere between the two while being a unique presence for both the city and the building's inhabitants.