Creating volumes with minimal structure
Kengo Kuma is one of the most reputed and acclaimed architect of our time. Japanese, born in 1954 in Yokoama, he understood he wanted to become an architect already very young. Graduated at University of Tokyo, Kuma then moved to New York to attend the Columbia University and, since he started his own practice when back to his country, has always pursued a holistic approach to architecture and design, considering Nature one of our most important tools to experience a high quality of life. While his head-quarter in Tokyo was founded in 1986, today Kengo Kuma Associated has offices in Paris and Beijing, covering the whole planet. His motto that the main criteria for architecture is humbleness became even firmer after the great Tsunami, which devastated Japan in 2011.
After this mayor event, Kuma got even more convinced that architecture could not much against the force of Nature, and this should lead to a more sense of humility by worldwide experts. Addressing a simple and human approach to this discipline, the architect carried on a specific attitude towards creativity in architecture, which focus on buildings able not only to respect Nature and people, but to transmit emotions and organically integrate to the surrounding context. To reach this harmonic balance, the first thing to take into consideration before starting a project is the feeling of the place and the peculiar identity of every city. In the words of Victor Papanek “No design stands mute. All design has social, environmental and ecological consequences”, (Victor Papanek, 13 August 1990, Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco). So designing is not so much about inventing new shapes, but it belongs to a wider social configuration which can lead to relevant changes within our society.
VALEXTRA: What kind of quality an architect/designer cannot miss?
KENGO KUMA: Common sense.
VX: How do your projects start and how would you describe your own way of conceiving architecture?
KK: All our projects start by observing, listening, understanding; in order to discover something that calls our attention, that excites us to work with. Can be something we find in the site, something from the place’s culture, some narrative or passion coming from the client, a local material we want to know more about.
VX: Do you usually establish precise rules with your clients?
KK: Each project is a whole different story; different from the previous project and didn't different from the next to come. We just make sure all our projects, at the end of the path, despite size or budget scale, have to become interesting works in a way or another.
"KENGO KUMA & ASSOCIATES IS A 200+ PEOPLE
DESIGN OFFICE. I DON'T DRAW, I TAKE DECISIONS"
VX: I know you like material materials. Among them, is there a material you like to use more than others in your projects, and which is the reason?
KK: We like to use materials as an essential focus of our research to develop new architectural languages in our projects; both natural and artificial. Any material can be exciting if something in its essence triggers a hint for a specific project.
VX: How do you draw, with the pencil or with the computer?
KK: Kengo Kuma & Associates is a 200+ people design office. I don’t draw, I take decisions.
VX: Do you think the introduction of technology changed your approach to architecture?
KK: Architecture has always been hand-to-hand with technology since it involves construction. It is not possible to conceive architecture – buildable architecture – without understanding the technology that has to be put in place. Good architecture always results from a design conception that takes into account the available technologies that can make a design become realized.
“DESIGNING THIS NEW SHOP IN LINE WITH THIS VERY UNIQUE DISPLAYING ATTITUDE OF VALEXTRA APPEARED OF GREAT IMPORTANCE TO US”
VX: What's the difference between art and architecture?
KK: They are two different things. One of the exciting aspects of the architectural practice is that it deals with many other fields according to the nature and requirements of the project; art is sometimes one them.
VX: Are you a collector, and if so, of what?
KK: I don't consider myself a collector. I am more of a nomadic person. Though, when I travel and I see beautiful interesting artifacts I sometimes bring them back with me, but with no particular ambition to collect within one kind of item. I travel all around the world and each place offers very different kinds of interesting artifacts.
VX: Among the international, historical architects and designers, looking to the past, is there one you consider as your mentor, or that you particularly look up to? I would like to know who are the people who have inspired you.
KK: I remember my first interest in architecture as a kid was when my father took me to see a magnificent building Kenzo Tange designed for the first Olympics here in Tokyo. Interestingly enough, we are currently building the National Stadium for the next Olympics only minutes away from Tange's building. In any case, one cannot reduce its learning to the observation of the work of just one individual. In history there has been many great architects and designers. It's the combined legacy of all of them with their similarities, contrasts, and evolutions in time that create the background for designers and architects learn from and relate to.
VX: Is there a favorite object you could not live without?
KK: Nowadays, my cellphone.
VX: As an architect, do you have an impossible dream which you would like to fulfill?
KK: Not that I'm aware of!
VX: A short definition of yourself (also in 3 words, adjectives)
KK: Hardworking, traveler, quiet.
VX: What is the meaning of traveling to you, and a fascinating trip you have not done yet.
KK: The chance to be in places, meet people, observe cultures and practice habits different from those from where I am from.
VX: If it could be possible, back in time: what would you like to become?
KK: An architect.
VX: 3 words to describe the life you are leading now?
KK: Exciting, busy, nomadic.
VX: Which are the elements which inspired you from Valextra’s aesthetics.
KK: It is intelligent simplicity that achieves great elegance not through artificial elements, but confident forms and details. Valextra has been constant through decades; it is a brand that expresses outspoken discreetness and timeless contemporaneity.
VX: Can you tell us more about The Forest, the concept for Valextra head-quarter in Milan?
KK: Having the idea of displaying each item individually brought us to conceive a retail concept where each displayed product would occupy its own space. We had the ambition to create a store conceived only by the addition of each of the items individual space, and that visitors would walk through them. From this idea came The Forest. Following this narrative, we formalized these individual space for each piece as full-height raw wooden planks. Essentially these wooden planks are the only element creating the space. The loose furniture, sofas and counters, appear as precious objects to be found by chance among the trees.
VX: Can you tell more about the materials you chose for the installation, and how they contribute to the final effect?
KK: I believe that the whole effect is created by the wooden planks. We have chosen to leave these cider wooden planks as raw as possible to shape a natural feeling that would contrast very intensely with the very refined presence of the Valextra collections. The decision of transforming the ceiling and the walls at the end of each room into gigantic mirrored surfaces allowed us to exaggerate the effect of being in a labyrinth-forest. Very patterned Ticino stones for the counters and colorful textured by Kvadrat fabrics for the seating were chosen to make these appear as precious objects to be discovered. The scent of wood that parfums the whole store is particularly pleasant and charming when one step into it. We can suddenly feel a certain conform leaving behind the chaos of the hectic city.
VX: What is the intended feeling, walking into the installation?
KK: We hope to create a feeling of being in an enchanted place where one has the pleasure to get lost, in order to discover treasures.