Combining Nature and Culture: Kengo Kuma’s Architecture

The new building designed by the architect Kengo Kuma was inspired by Albert Kahn’s specific connection with Japan: the architectural project stages the relationship between the external and the internal, between the city, museum and garden. Kengo Kuma placed this link between culture and domesticated nature at the heart of his project meant to expand the museum and reorganize its four historical buildings, which cadence the visitor itinerary.

Outside, the façade facing the street is an enclosure wall that both protects and reveals the new museum. The outer envelope of metallic folds hides the interior vegetal setting from view; at night, it reveals the lights of the museum between the lacquered slats, like a lantern. Once past the sloping entrance, the architectural vocabulary changes, with an interplay of screens, pine slats, aluminum mesh and walkways that cadence the interior façade and connect it to the garden.

Inside, each opening is a composition. Visitors, looking through the tall glass walls, are immediately plunged into the meadow and English garden. Dynamic longitudinal lines respond in kind, from the floor slats to the bleachers, all the way up to the infinity-style wood slat ceiling, the whole underlined through mirror-like effects.

  • 4,600 m2 of total surface area in the museum
  • 2,300 m2 of surface area in Kengo Kuma’s new building
  • 8 renovated buildings (7 historical buildings and the former gallery)
  • 3 traditional Japanese homes restored
  • 1,000 m2 dedicated to the permanent collection throughout the site
  • 600 m2 dedicated to temporary exhibits
  • 100 m2 dedicated to the Family Room
  • 1 new auditorium with 100 seats

Engawa-inspired Architecture

The project establishes a dialogue between the building and the garden through an element borrowed from traditional Japanese architecture: the engawa, a borderland between inside and outside. The reinterpretation of this element, which was developed throughout all the renovated buildings makes it possible to create a link between the site’s different elements and forge a coherent identity for the whole. The repeated echoing of the materials – wood, bamboo, metal – in each of the spaces also emphasizes this overall logic.

Kengo Kuma

Born in 1954 in Yokohama, Kengo Kuma studied architecture and engineering at the University of Tokyo, where he earned his degree in 1979 and still teaches today. In 1990, he founded his architectural firm, Kengo Kuma & Associates. In 1997, he won the prestigious award from the Architectural Institute in Japan. His work is presented above all else as a criticism of conventionalism, formalism and any deference to style and fashion.

The only architect appearing in Time Magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people on earth, Kengo Kuma has notably designed the Olympic Stadium for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and the Victoria & Albert Museum of Dundee (Scotland). In France, he designed the Frac in Marseille, the Conservatory of Music and Dance in Aix-en-Provence and the future Saint-Denis-Pleyel metro station.

Kengo Kuma constantly works to harmoniously incorporate his projects within their environment and cultural context. His work is defined as a synthesis between East and West, striving to update, in a post-industrial world, traditional techniques and propose an architectural approach on a human scale