Once in a Lifetime

architect Kengo Kuma
interviewed by Mensur Demir


Interviewed in Mostar on 3 August 2015


Kengo Kuma is currently one of Japan’s most prominent, internationally recognized architects, with offices in Tokyo, Beijing and Paris. Being an architect who is neither modernist nor traditionalist, Kuma’s approach cannot be simply labelled in any of those categories. Careful approach to the phenomenology of the location and a sophisticated sense of materiality could be seen as his handwriting, a red string that connects his various creations. Kuma’s world of ideas is not to be categorized through scale or western building categories; the creativity emerges through combining intellectual approach and an intuitive, personal, almost shamanic listening to the site. His approach formed in decades of practical work and research is explained through views on his formative years, early influences and experiences but also keeping a steady reflection on challenges of our time and the future. 


ORIS: At the beginning of your career you gained an insight into traditional architecture in Japan through the books of Bruno Taut or architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright. Looking at your career, it seems that the value of cultural exchange is essential in terms of understanding something from a distance. A distant side view may provide more than a view fixed on a single point. How do you see cultural exchanges in today’s information age? How does the unprecedented rapid exchange of information affect architecture today?


Kuma: The speed of communication is constantly increasing. Such speed, the speed of sending images and texts, has almost come to nothing. There is almost nothing between two places. But, the experience is different. If I want to feel space, I still need to go to a place and the speed of viewing is the same. Even the speed of an airplane is almost consistent. If I want to go to Europe or to Mostar, travel time is almost the same as before. This means that there is a big gap between the speed of sending data and the speed of real experience; and the value of real experience is getting greater and greater. This change is reflected, in a significant way, in the design of architecture. In the age of industrialization, in the 20th century, the prevailing mode of communication was sending images – it was the age of tv, the age of video images – and people tried to achieve something in the field of this type of visual imagery. Now, architects want to design something in the realm of real experience. In my case, materiality is becoming increasingly important. Materiality includes tactile experiences, scents, temperatures, etc., and these multiple senses cannot be transported to other places. The criteria of architectural design changed drastically because of the change of time; owing to this change, I was able to find my method. The method of this period should be something very different from the method of the 1990s.