Friday, September 11, 2009

Kengo Kuma interview

There was a Kengo Kuma interview on CNN. I like the subtle treatment of materials in his buildings. And of course, he started the talk with Japanese tradition and materials.

He feels that reconstructing cities in Japan with concrete after WWII destroyed the Japanese tradition. I sort of agree. But I am not sure if you can simply blame the loss of tradition on the change of building material. There are so many other dimensions to it. Reclaiming tradition can't be just restoring the use of traditional materials. Concrete is not a traditional material in Japan (you may say it's hardly traditional in any country...), but there were certain reasons in a particular period of history that determined its popularity. He said, "20th century architecture is concrete, iron, and glass. People didn't pay attention to materials." I would argue concrete, iron, and glass are materials as well. It was the attention to these new materials that nurtured the innovations in structure, hence the revolution of modern architecture. Why is architecture only nice when built in wood and paper? To me, Japan is probably the most successful country in remaining a national architectural identity in the flashy modern world. Many of its architects are using concrete, iron, and glass.

Fortunately his approach is not that literal. What he aims at in his career is actually the quality of tradition - in the case of Japan, softness, delicacy, and warmth. "Our approach is to capture the atmosphere of the place... by communicating with the people there," he explained. "Therefore it's important to go to this place several times or to live with these people - to eat, and drink with them." He also sees the importance of checking on details and touching the materials in person. As a result, he travels a lot - meeting people, visiting construction sites and trying to control the quality. Working on 55+ projects at the same time, he only rests about one or two days in a year! But for him, it's a lot of fun. What's more exciting than doing something that you love and care about? "I will keep working until I collapse."

Kuma compares architecture to sushi making. "There are two important things to make sushi. One is the material and the other is the skill..." After listening to him, I would add another one - care.

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