Materiality reimagined

Kengo Kuma, a Japanese architect and emeritus professor in the Department of Architecture at the University of Tokyo, uses materials to connect with the local context and the users of his projects.  

He understands the material as an essential component that can make a difference in architecture from the design stages. This curated selection of Kengo Kuma’s work, together with some local projects, explores materiality reimagined.  

Precast concrete as a brutal facade 

Project: V&A Dundee 

Located along the waterfront in the city of Dundee, Scotland, this museum appears as a petrified ship. Kuma has created a facade composed of multiple horizontal layers of precast concrete, delivering an interesting play of light and shadow from a distance, and a delicate texture when approaching. 

Ceramic roof tiles as shelves 

Project: Camper Paseo de Gracia 

In this shoe store, the architect takes advantage of the elementary form of the ceramic pieces to create all the elements that the space needs to work: Walls, shelves, the staff counter and the customers’ bench. Each piece is simple, but its sum is complex and attractive. 

Materiality reimagined

Camper Paseo de Gracia / Kengo Kuma Associates. Image © ImagenSubliminal

Fabric as light ceilings and walls 

Project: One @ Tokyo 

Contrasting with a dramatic wooden screen on its facade, also used unexpectedly, the restaurant located on the first floor of the hotel is configured spatially with the use of the fabric. Long white veils are spread over the space, defining light walls and hiding the technical installations on the roof. 

Wooden lattice as a memorial structure 

Project: The Arch for Arch 

The Arch for Arch is a tribute to Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, affectionally known as “Arch” by fellow South Africans. It consists of 14 intertwined strands of bent larch wood, representing the 14 chapters of the South African constitution. Wood was chosen to offer a warm, tactile quality that invites interaction rather than the traditional stone or marble of other monuments. 

Glass panels as an animated lattice 

Project: Contemporary Art Centre (FRAC) 

Several tempered and laminated glass panels, with an enamelled surface treatment, create an exo-structure that envelops the museum, creating movement and identity to the building. 

Materiality reimagined

Contemporary Art Centre (FRAC) / Kengo Kuma & Associates. Image © Nicolas Waltefaugle

Straw on a curtain wall 

Project: Yusuhara Marche 

Kuma sought to connect with local history by using straw as a material, making modules of 2 000 x 980mm. “Normally in thatched roofing, thatch is fixed vertically against the foundation, in which its cut ends face towards the outside. In this building, however, the bunch of thatch is bound

Aluminium grating panels as a mosaic facade 

Project: Delis Yokohama 

According to Kuma, “with 850 panels of aluminium grating that have different sizes and patterns and are combined as mosaic, we tried to translate the humane and unsorted atmosphere of this vibrant district alongside the canal into the architectural vocabulary. Normally, multipurpose buildings in big cities are treated unfavourably. However, with the application of the industrial material as the particle, we succeeded in giving a fresh expression of ‘noise’ to the building.” 

Materiality reimagined

Delis Yokohama / Kengo Kuma & Associates. Image © Toshihiro Ishibashi

Oriented Strand Board (OSB) for ceiling boards 

Project: Calling Academy 

The use of OSB for the ceilings provided an attractive finish and assisted with the acoustics in the building. It was also used as wall coverings in some areas. Using cheaper, familiar materials in a beautiful way showed that opportunity and achievement are not limited to something’s material value. The product itself is also considered a more environmentally friendly product, as it can be made from scrap or sustainably sourced wood, and it can be recycled. 

Steel mesh as green eaves 

Project: Marronier Court 

Looking to lighten and abstract the eaves of the building, the architect has designed a corrugated stainless-steel mesh of 5mm, anchored to allow the growth of vegetation on it. 

Materiality reimagined

Marronier Court / Kengo Kuma & Associates. Image © Daici Ano

Materials used in different ways from their original purpose,

or unusual materiality from traditional norms, produce unusual results. 


Full thanks and acknowledgement to and for the information in this article.  

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