Interview: Kengo Kuma

architect Kengo Kuma
interviewed by Vera Grimmer, Vinko Penezić, Krešimir Rogina, Andrija Rusan


Interviewed in Zagreb, October 25, 2002


ORIS: So, when we did some interviews with our colleagues in Japan three years ago, we asked them who there is from the young architects, new architects, the new voices of Japanese architects, who are the main ones, and mostly people mentioned your name and that of Kazuyo Sejima. Our friend Kimura said that your approach is something new, something different, especially in the sense of materiality in architecture.


Kuma: In Japan, there are two sectors of architects. One sector is modernistic, one sector is traditionalist. I think I don’t belong to either. It’s difficult to feel easy with modernists because they only use concrete, as you know, and limit their material just to concrete. Also, for most Japanese modernists, the use of this limited material is the condition of being a modernist. I think that this attitude started after the Second World War because Japan was defeated by the States and most of the Japanese lost respect for Japanese culture. The flexibility of the timber house and the transparency of the house was the base of Japanese culture and was the base of Japanese philosophy. But after the war, we lost that kind of culture. Afterwards, architects like Ando began to create the so-called Japanese modernity. But I think that this is not a Japanese modernity. This is just a phenomenon after the Second World War. But I believe that after the modernism, Japanese tradition has had a very deep deviation shield, and I can tell one story of Frank Lloyd Wright. Frank Lloyd Wright was a collector of the Japanese Ukiyo-e paintings, and he respected the transparency of Japanese faces on the Ukiyo-e paintings He respected the layers of Japanese paintings and he learned that method. He created his modernism through his study of Japanese traditions. The concept was reimported to Japan, while its origin is some kind of Japanese tradition. It’s like impressionism in painting. Painters like Van Gogh, like Cézanne, from 19th century Japan paintings and they took many things from Japanese paintings. The Japanese tradition was the cradle of modernity.