apanese architect Kengo Kuma is known for buildings that, above all, embrace natural materials and light. They bring comfort — both physical and immaterial — to their inhabitants. From the striking Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center in Tokyo to a discrete wood-and-glass house in the forests of New Canaan, Connecticut, Kuma’s work aims to improve and supplement the surroundings, rather than dominate them.
“My buildings are always part of the place, part of the location. I want to merge buildings into the environment as best I can. Harmony is always the goal of my practice,” says Kuma.
Since he founded Kengo Kuma & Associates in 1990, Kuma’s work has gained recognition the world over. He was the recipient of the prestigious Decoration Officier de L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France in 2009, and his practice won the Global Award for Sustainable Architecture in 2016.
Though the majority of Kuma’s projects are located in Japan, his practice has increasingly been pursuing international commissions since they opened a European office in Paris in 2008. Currently underway in the French capital is a highly anticipated eco-hotel on the Left Bank, which will boast a wood-block exterior with greenery embedded throughout for a lively and lush facade.
But Kuma’s most ambitious project at the moment is undeniably the Tokyo 2020 National Olympic Stadium, a 68,000-seat wooden lattice structure that is still under construction. Kuma and Associates’ scheme was selected after the original winning design — by the late Zaha Hadid — was abandoned due to budgetary concerns.
Earlier this year, Kuma was in London for the city’s annual Festival of Architecture, where he gave a talk about the role of memory in his practice at the ROCA London Gallery. Ahead of the lecture, we took a stroll with Kuma along London’s River Thames to learn more about his practice and point of view.