Step by step

Architect Kengo Kuma on achieving humbleness in modern architecture and Japan’s ‘lost decade’

In the latest video from the Time-Space-Existence series, Kengo Kuma draws us into his world, meditating on the ebb and flow of being an architect, and how a financial crash became an opportunity for learning. Commissioned by the GAA Foundation, and funded by the European Cultural Centre and produced by PLANE–SITE, the film takes us to the Tokyo of offices of Kengo Kuma and Associates to discuss the topics of time, space, and existence as they relate to the Japanese architect’s work.

Here, he discusses the role of humility in architecture, and his desire to bring architecture and nature closer together. ‘To be humble is not so easy for [modern architects]. It is a dilemma of our profession,’ says Kuma in the film. ‘We try to walk slowly – step by step – to achieve that humbleness. Kuma also discusses Japan’s so-called ‘lost decade’ after the 1991  financial crash, which spurred his studio’s move from Tokyo to the Japanese countryside. During these years, he worked on smaller scale projects, learning about materials from local craftspeople — ‘a most fruitful period’, as he recalls in the video. Many of these techniques and ideas influenced his later, bigger projects.

Born in 1954 in Yokohama, Japan, Kuma studied architecture at the University of Tokyo and, later, Columbia University. In 1987, he founded the Spatial Design Studio before launching Kengo Kuma and Associates in 1990. Projects currently underway for the architect include Scotland’s first design museum and the highly contested 2020 Tokyo Olympic Stadium. The film series will be exhibited in Palazzo Bembo and Palazzo Mora during the Venice Architecture Biennale next year.

See each film in the ‘Time-Space-Existence’ video series first exclusively on ‘Time-Space-Existence’ opens at the Venice Architecture Biennale in May 2018. For more information, visit the Kengo Kuma and Associates website, the GAA Foundation website, the European Cultural Centre website and the PLANE–SITE website

Ellie Stathaki is the Architecture & Environment Director at Wallpaper*. She trained as an architect at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece and studied architectural history at the Bartlett in London. Now an established journalist, she has been a member of the Wallpaper* team since 2006, visiting buildings across the globe and interviewing leading architects such as Tadao Ando and Rem Koolhaas. Ellie has also taken part in judging panels, moderated events, curated shows and contributed in books, such as The Contemporary House (Thames & Hudson, 2018), Glenn Sestig Architecture Diary (2020) and House London (2022).