Transparent Talent

By Sun Shuangjie Source:Global Times Published: 2013-7-9 18:58:01

A model of Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center are among the exhibits on display. Photos: Courtesy of Zendai Contemporary Art Space

A model of Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center are among the exhibits on display. Photos: Courtesy of Zendai Contemporary Art Space

Over the past few decades, Japanese architects have established their names on the world stage with their distinctive designs. Among them are Tadao Ando, the self-taught Pritzker Architecture Prize winner whose works are characterized by the simplicity of Japanese Zen and feature large expanses of concrete walls combined with wooden or stone floors and large windows, and Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, award-winning architects noted for their creative application of glass and emphasis of openness to the surrounding environment.

Born in Yokohama in 1954, Kengo Kuma is an acclaimed Japanese architect still active in the global architecture scene. Over the years, Kuma has dedicated himself to creating openness and transparency in architecture by replacing concrete with natural materials such as stone, wood and bamboo.

His works include the Water/Glass House, Stone Museum, Bato Hiroshige Museum and LVMH Group headquarters in Japan. In China, people can also view several of his masterpieces, such as the Great (Bamboo) Wall House and Sanlitun SOHO in Beijing, and Z58 on Panyu Road in Shanghai. 

Currently the Zendai Contemporary Art Space in Yangpu district is hosting a solo exhibition, showcasing nine models of Kuma's latest designs for venues around the world. From July 24 to September 15, the Himalayas Museum (869 Yinghua Road) in Pudong New Area will showcase a real-sized wood architectural structure from the master.

On view at the Zendai Contemporary Art Space are models of Yusuhara Wooden Bridge Museum, Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center, Starbucks Coffee at Dazaifutenmangu Omotesando and GC Prostho Museum Research Center in Japan; FRAC Marseille and Besançon Art Center and Cité de la Musique in France; V&A at Dundee in the UK; Granada Performing Arts Center in Spain; and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne. The last three have not yet been built.

A model of Yusuhara Wooden Bridge Museum are among the exhibits on display. Photos: Courtesy of Zendai Contemporary Art Space

A model of Yusuhara Wooden Bridge Museum are among the exhibits on display. Photos: Courtesy of Zendai Contemporary Art Space

Between particles

"The Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995 and Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011 showed people that houses and condominiums which people work very hard to get with housing loans are inherently weak and unreliable," Kuma noted in an introduction to the exhibition.

In Kuma's opinion, the predominant suburban houses of the 20th century, which "may appear to be organized," are in fact weak and fragile. Kuma's focus has been to create rooms that appear to be "between particles," thus he designs open rooms with good ventilation, which are flexible and strong.

Visitors can see a model of the Yusuhara Wooden Bridge Museum, which produces a fantastic effect of light and shadow under a spotlight as the architect left spaces between the wood for openness. Meanwhile the model of Starbucks Coffee at Dazaifutenmangu Omotesando showcases Kuma's adept appliance of crossing wood beams that create a flexible space inside the venue.

"To ensure the safety of his wooden architecture, Kuma's team has come up with a special method to make the wood flame-retardant, a technique they patented," Zhu E, the curator of the exhibition, told the Global Times.

Inspirations everywhere

According to Zhu, the selected architectures on show are also related to Chinese culture. For instance, the Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center, which features external walls comprised of wood and glass and irregular, slanting stories piled up when seen from the outside, is inspired by Kuma's trip to Chongqing in Southwest China, where local villagers build such ceilings to counter the humid climate.

"Kuma is a very observant person, who is always learning wherever he goes," said Zhu, who is also an old friend of Kuma.

Also on view at the exhibition is a five-minute video which showcases Kuma's trips to Shanghai and Kyoto, as well as to the aftermath of the March 11 earthquake in 2011. Zhu hopes visitors can see the real Kuma and how he responds to his environment.

"Kuma regards optimism as the most important quality of an architect, but I'd like to interpret it as persistence." Zhu told the Global Times.

"There are so many stakeholders involved over a long period of time to turn the design into a real building, so it's always very challenging for architects to deal with those people. The key for them to realize their designs is being persistent and genial at the same time," added Zhu.

The organizer of the two exhibitions has also launched an interactive event, "100 Questions for Kengo Kuma." People can send queries to the architect, and Kuma will choose 100 of them to answer. According to the organizer, the Q&As will be printed in brochures, which will be sent back to participants as a souvenir.

Date: Until August 22, 10 am to 6 pm

Venue: Zendai Contemporary Art Space 证大当代艺术空间

Address: Bldg 101, 1436 Jungong Road 军工路1436号101幢

Tickets: 50 yuan for individuals, 25 yuan for students, 30 yuan per person for group visits of 8 or more people

Call 5033-0988 for details

Posted in: Metro Shanghai

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