Kengo Kuma

Kengo Kuma (隈 研吾, Kuma Kengo, born 1954) is a Japanese architect and professor in the Department of Architecture (Graduate School of Engineering) at the University of Tokyo. Frequently compared to contemporaries Shigeru Ban and Kazuyo Sejima, Kuma is also noted for his prolific writings. He is the designer of the New National Stadium, Tokyo which has been built for 2020 Summer Olympics.[1]

Kengo Kuma
Kengo Kuma in 2014
Native name
隈 研吾
Yokohama, Japan
Alma mater

Early life and education

Kuma was born in Kanagawa, and attended Eiko Gakuen junior and senior high schools. After graduating in Architecture from the University of Tokyo in 1979, he worked for a time at Nihon Sekkei and Toda Corporation. He then moved to New York City in the USA for further studies at Columbia University as a visiting researcher from 1985 to 1986.


In 1987, he founded the "Spatial Design Studio", and in 1990, he established his own firm "Kengo Kuma & Associates". He has taught at Columbia University, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Keio University, where in 2008, Kuma was awarded his Ph.D. in Architecture.[2] As a professor at the Graduate School of Architecture at the University of Tokyo, he runs diverse research projects concerning architecture, urbanity and design within his own Laboratory, Kuma Lab.[3] His firm, Kengo Kuma & Associates employs over 150 architects in Tokyo and Paris, designing projects of diverse type and scale throughout the world.

Philosophy and writings

Kuma's stated goal is to recover the tradition of Japanese buildings and to reinterpret these traditions for the 21st century. In 1997, he won the Architectural Institute of Japan Award and in 2009 was made an Officier de L'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France. Kuma lectures extensively and is the author of numerous books and articles discussing and criticizing approaches in contemporary architecture. His seminal text Anti-Object: The Dissolution and Disintegration of Architecture written in 2008, calls for an architecture of relations, respecting its surroundings instead of dominating them. Kuma's projects maintain a keen interest in the manipulation of light with nature through materiality.

Material theory

Although remaining in continuity with Japanese traditions with the clarity of structural solutions, implied tectonics, and importance of light and transparency, Kengo Kuma does not restrain himself to the banal and superficial use of ‘light’ materials. Instead, he goes much deeper, extending to the mechanisms of composition to expand the possibilities of materiality. He utilizes technological advancements which can challenge unexpected materials, such as stone, into providing the same sense of lightness and softness as glass or wood. Kuma attempts to attain a sense of spatial immateriality as a consequence of the ‘particulate nature’ of the light and establishing a relationship between a space and the natural round around it.[4]

“You could say that my aim is ‘to recover the place’. The place is a result of nature and time; this is the most important aspect. I think my architecture is some kind of frame of nature. With it, we can experience nature more deeply and more intimately. Transparency is a characteristic of Japanese architecture; I try to use light and natural materials to get a new kind of transparency.” –Kengo Kuma[5]

In many of Kengo Kuma’s projects, attention is focused on the connection spaces; on the segments between inside and outside, and one room to the next. The choice of materials stems not so much from an intention to guide the design of the forms, but to conform to the existing surroundings from a desire to compare similar materials, yet show the technical advances that have made possible new uses.

When dealing with stone work, for example, Kuma displays a different character from the preexisting buildings of solid, heavy, traditional masonry construction. Instead his work surprises the eye by slimming down and dissolving the walls in an effort to express a certain “lightness” and immateriality, suggesting an illusion of ambiguity and weakness not common to the solidity of stone construction.[5]


Key projects include the Suntory Museum of Art in Tokyo, Bamboo Wall House in China, LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy) Group's Japan headquarters, Besançon Art Center in France, and one of the largest spas in the Caribbean for Mandarin Oriental Dellis Cay.[6]

Stone Roof, a private residence in Nagano, Japan, built in 2010, consists of a roof which is meant to spring from the ground, providing a complete enclosure to the home. A local stone was chosen to intimately relate itself to the preexisting natural environment of the mountain side. The exterior stone work is made light and airy by cutting each stone into thin slices and bracing each slice as a pivoting panel. In this way, the heavy quality of stone is diluted and provides the eye with an illusion of lightness, allowing light and air directly into the space within. With this choice of material and construction, a new kind of transparency emerges; one that not only frames nature the way a glass curtain wall would, but also deeply relates itself to the mountain side.[7]

In 2016, Kuma also delved into designing pre-fabricated pavilions in partnership with Revolution Precrafted. He designed the mobile multifunctional pavilion named The Aluminum Cloud Pavilion. The structure, composed of aluminum panels joined using Kangou technique, can be used as a teahouse or a space of meditation.[8]

Kuma Lab

Kuma Lab is a Research Laboratory headed by Kuma based in the Department of Architecture, Faculty of Engineering at the University of Tokyo's Hongo Campus that was started in 2009.[3] In 2012, Kuma Lab published the book Patterns and Layering, Japanese Spatial Culture, Nature and Architecture,including the research from various Doctoral Candidate Lab members.[9]

Its research topics consist of a comprehensive survey of architectural, urban, community, landscape, and product designs; survey of structural, material, and mechanical designs; and methodology for bridging sustainable, physical, and information designs. Its activities include participation in architectural design competitions, organization and management of regional and international design workshop, joint research with other departments at the University of Tokyo, and research and proposal to aid the recovery from the Great East Japan earthquake.

Selected works

  • M2 building (1989–1991)
  • Kiro-San observatory (1994)
  • Kitakami Canal Museum (1994)
  • Water/Glass, Atami (1995)
  • Bato Hiroshige Museum (2000)
  • Stone Museum (2000)
  • Great (Bamboo) Wall House, Beijing (2002)
  • Plastic House (2002)
  • LVMH Group Japan headquarters, Osaka (2003)
  • Lotus House (2003)
  • Suntory's Tokyo office building
  • Food and Agriculture Museum, Tokyo University of Agriculture (2004)
  • Nagasaki Prefectural Art Museum (2005)
  • Kodan apartments (2005)
  • Water Block House (2007)
  • The Opposite House, Beijing (2008)
  • Nezu Museum, Minato, Tokyo (2009)
  • V&A Dundee, Scotland[10] (2010–2018)
  • Stone Roof (2010)
  • Taikoo Li Sanlitun, Beijing (2010)
  • Akagi Jinja and Park Court Kagurazaka (2010)
  • Yusuhara Wooden Bridge Museum (2011)
  • Meme Meadows Experimental House, Hokkaido. Japan (2012)[11]
  • Wisdom Tea House (2012)[12]
  • Cité des Arts et de la Culture, Besançon (2013)
  • Seibu 4000 series Fifty-two Seats of Happiness tourist train (2016)[13]
  • Japanese Garden Cultural Village, Portland, Oregon, USA (2017)
  • Eskisehir Modern Art Center (2018)
  • New National Stadium, Tokyo (to be completed in 2019)
  • 1550 Alberni, apartments in Vancouver, Canada. (to be completed in 2020)[14]
  • House of Fairytales, Odense, Denmark (to be completed in 2020)


  • 1997 Architectural Institute of Japan Award for “Noh Stage in the Forest" First Place, AIA DuPONT Benedictus Award for “Water/Glass” (USA)[2]
  • 2001 Togo Murano Award for “Nakagawa-machi Bato Hiroshige Museum”[2]
  • 2002 Spirit of Nature Wood Architecture Award (Finland)[2]
  • 2008 Energy Performance + Architecture Award (France)Bois Magazine International Wood Architecture Award (France)[2]
  • 2008 LEAF Award (commercial category)
  • 2009 Decoration Officier de L'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (France)[2]
  • 2010 Mainichi Art Award for “Nezu Museum”[2]
  • 2011 The Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology's Art Encouragement Prize for "Yusuhara Wooden Bridge Museum"[2]
  • 2012 The Restaurant & Bar Design Awards, Restaurant Interior (Stand alone) for Sake No Hana (London) [15]


  1. Self, Jack. "Kuma Chameleon". Retrieved 5 May 2015.
  2. Kengo, Kuma. "Kengo Kuma and Associates". Retrieved 5 May 2012.
  4. Bognar, B. (2005). Kengo Kuma: Selected Works. New York: Princeton Architectural Press. p. 104.
  5. Bognar, B. (2009). Material Immaterial: The New Work of Kengo Kuma. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.
  6. Mandarin Oriental Dellis Cay.
  7. Bognar, B. (2005). Kengo Kuma: Selected Works. New York: Princeton Architectural Press. p. 154.
  9. Edited by Salvator-John A Liotta and Matteo Belfiore. Co-edited by Ilze Paklone and Rafael A. Balboa. Artwork by Norika Niki (Gestalten, Berlin. 2012)
  10. Morkis, Stefan (2011-03-28). "V&A museum architect Kengo Kuma to give Dundee lecture". The Courier. Dundee, Scotland. Archived from the original on 2011-12-14. Retrieved 2011-10-30.
  12. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-01-26. Retrieved 2013-02-04.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  13. Osumi, Magdalena (28 December 2015). "Seibu to debut dinner trains featuring local fare on its scenic Chichibu Line from spring". The Japan Times. Japan: The Japan Times Ltd. Retrieved 30 December 2015.
  14. "1550 Alberni | Westbank Corp". Retrieved 2017-12-28.
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