Japanese architect Kengo Kuma hints at what to expect at Founders’ Memorial

Created from aluminium tubes with printed wood grain finish, it resembles an abstract tree canopy with clusters of branches. Part art and part architecture, the installation creates a dialogue between the positive space of the mass of branches, and the negative space it carves out, which also becomes the reception area to the gallery.

The form is the result of several studies based on a modular triangular geometry of three aluminium tubes.

“We started from this small detail,” says Mr Kuma, adding that wood had been intended instead of aluminium tubes, but building codes did not allow this.

His practice has been built around the use of natural materials such as wood and stone in design since the 1990s, when he decided to “escape from the city of Tokyo” and visit rural villages in Japan. 

At the time, Japan’s economy had crashed and “every project in Tokyo had been cancelled”, he recalls.

“Even in small villages, we could find quality craftsmanship and unique materials. It was more exciting and more delicate. That was the beginning of my new career,” he says.

An important early work, the Stone Museum (1998) in Tochigi, Japan, used locally sourced Ashino stone and local craftsmen to give the stone work a permeable quality that would not have been realised using modern construction techniques, he adds.

It was after this project, he says, that he began to think regionalism could be a new architectural movement.

In celebrated buildings such as the Japan National Stadium (2019), the references to regional architecture are evident in the use of cedar wood on the traditional Japanese roof eaves that envelope the large structure. It is also in the roof truss structure, which combines steel beams and laminated lumber.

For a more recent project in Switzerland, targeted for completion in three years, Mr Kuma has envisioned a 30-storey building with a concrete and timber structure, with concrete used only in the core – for services like the lifts. 

As construction details on the Founders’ Memorial have not been finalised, Mr Kuma cannot say what building materials will be used. But he adds that he hopes to find craftsmen at a later stage to work with here.

What is clear, however, is that concrete will not be a main feature. Describing himself as “anti-concrete”, he says: “Concrete has no texture, no materiality. It just creates a heavy volume.”

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