Kengo Kuma is enjoying the perks of his most recent collaboration. ‘When I became a friend of The Dalmore, they began to send me many types of whisky,’ says Kuma from Edinburgh, in an exclusive interview with Wallpaper* on 21 October 2022. The acclaimed architect recently attended the launch of The Dalmore Luminary Series, for which he has created a sculpture to house one of the distillery’s rarest whiskies.
‘I’ve learned the small differences between each [whisky]. I feel that whisky and wood are the same. Wood has great diversity: even in the same [species], wood has a different grain and smell. The same thing happens with whisky. This collaboration is to show the similarities between wood and whisky.’
The Luminary Series sees The Dalmore release a collection of ultra-rare single malts from the distillery’s vaults over three years, working with V&A Dundee and some of the finest talents in the fields of architecture and design to present and house the seminal whiskies in the way they deserve. First up with the Luminary No.1, 2022 Edition are the V&A Dundee’s lead architects, Kuma and his protégé Maurizio Mucciola, who have designed the housing and case for the Luminary Series’ inaugural Rare and Collectible whiskies respectively.
‘I’ve been a big fan of whisky for a long time,’ continues Kuma. ‘After we started the V&A project eight years ago, we often came to Edinburgh and Dundee. Maurizio and I drank whisky a lot after work. We understand the deepness of whisky culture here in Scotland, and how whisky culture and Scotland relate.’
Of course, a deep-seated affection and affinity for whisky is something that’s shared by Scotland and Japan, but it isn’t the only subject on which the two countries enjoy a close bond. After Japan opened its borders to outside trade in the second half of the 19th century, Scottish architects and professors travelled to Tokyo to share their design sensibilities with an eager audience.
It’s a shared heritage that Kuma holds dear, and one that has informed his work with The Dalmore: ‘Engineering in Japan came from Scotland. This project is based on that similarity. A good example is Charles Rennie Mackintosh: he was very much inspired by Japan, he interpreted “Japaneseness” into his furniture. I learned many things from Mackintosh and the back and forth relationship between Japanese and Scottish design.’
Just three bottles have been filled with the Rare, a 48-year-old single malt nurtured by master distiller Richard Paterson, influenced by Oloroso sherry, vintage port and American white oak, and finished in Scottish tay and Japanese oak casks.
What emerges is a cherry-filled, coffee-roasted dram with a maple chocolate body and a telltale sherry edge in the orange marmalade and sugar finish. It’s a whisky that Kuma responded to immediately: ‘With the 48, I feel as if my body is floating off the ground. It goes beyond liquid. My imagination is flowing through space, and I wanted to represent that kind of feeling in this sculpture.’
This flowing space between objects is reflected in the Rare’s housing, comprising 48 hand-crafted diamond-shaped panels of Scottish oak, Japanese oak and polished metal, each panel signifying a year the whisky waited in its various casks before revealing itself to Paterson. A growing number of distilleries are turning to architects for willing collaborators, and Kuma sees this as a natural step: ‘The whisky business and our business both work with wood, work with earth and work with climate,’ he explains. ‘They look like very different jobs, but our approach is very similar. This collaboration is very architectural – before we started, I didn't think the project was architecture, but after working together, I understood that we’d worked on an architectural project.
‘They have a strong passion for the whisky, and we had a strong passion for achieving the idea. Without passion, quality cannot be achieved.’
That passion can also be seen in the Luminary Collectible Edition, master whisky maker Gregg Glass’ 15-year-old contribution to the Series. Matured in American white oak barrels, the single malt Collectible honours the Japanese art of kintsugi – the repairing of broken ceramics with powdered gold, silver, or platinum – having been finished in virgin ‘kintsugi’ casks made from a combination of Japanese oak, American oak and Scottish oak from the banks of the River Tay. Its case, by Maurizio Mucciola, reflects Kuma’s geometric housing of the Rare.
This is only the start of V&A Dundee’s collaboration with The Dalmore, with a new Series release to come in each of the next two years. This relatively quick turnaround belies the years of maturation and expertise behind both the whisky and the skills of its collaborators. ‘What I learned from Richard [Paterson] is that time is necessary,’ reflects Kuma. ‘We don’t need to hurry. With architecture projects, sometimes the schedule is very tight. After completion, the architecture begins its ageing process. It’s the same as whisky – we should take our time, not rush. That’s the lesson.’
One bottle of the Luminary No.1 Rare with its accompanying sculpture will be available at auction on 16 November 2022 at Sotheby’s London, with bidding now open online. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to V&A Dundee. Approximately 15,000 bottles of the Collectible Edition will be available from a selection of retailers for £250 each.
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