Saturday, June 19, 2021

Kengo Kuma: Creating a Forest Among the Books

Kengo Kuma is one of Japan’s most noted architects and a professor at the University of Tokyo’s Department of Architecture. The specialty of Kuma’s architectural designs is the interconnectivity with nature. A great emphasis is placed upon natural materials, transparency and light, and practical use. The result is architectural structures and designs that are unique.

Kengo Kuma’s firm Kengo Kuma and Associates has constructed innumerable structures globally for multiple purposes. The projects are wide-ranging and include stadiums, libraries, retail stores, museums, pavilions, and office buildings.

Kuma and his architecture firm have reshaped communities in a way quite unlike anyone else. Kuma’s work is known for its modern geometric, almost rhythmic lines and his love of playing with natural light and natural elements, like raw, untreated wood and other organic materials.

One of the latest projects by Kengo Kuma’s firm is located in Takaoka County, Kochi, Japan. It is a library and community center. The name of the library is Yusuhara Town Library. In the building, there is also a community center.

Located on the border of Kochi and Ehime, Yusuhara is often described as a “village above the clouds.” A sports facility and daycare center are located across from the library/community center and the area has developed into a center of attraction in the town, where locals of all age groups come and meet.

Kengo Kuma uses various kinds of locally sourced materials in his architectural projects.
The wooden structure provides a distinguished language and a unique architectural element to the building. (Image: yusuhara.kochi.jp)

The library

Kengo Kuma uses various kinds of locally sourced materials in his architectural projects. In this structure, he combined steel and locally sourced cedar in a new structural composition that hangs from the ceiling in the facade.

Envisaged as a forest, where sunlight is delicately filtered through the leaves, the interior of the library is filled with a spatial pattern of sugi bars that evokes treetops. This latticework, assembled in the traditional fashion, rests on thick steel columns — also functioning as logs — and is attached above to a series of tie beams on the roof. The wooden structure provides a distinguished language and a unique architectural element to the building.

Kengo Kuma and Associates said: “We assembled the structure mixing steel and cedar, expressing a forest with sunlight filtering through the leaves.”

Apart from the amazing ceiling design, the firm has also worked on the flooring of the library. Instead of making a large flat floor, the firm created an undulating wood surface designed as a scenographic topography, creating a sequence of levels at different heights that turn the space into a leisure area and the ground into a raised stage for events such as lectures or concerts.

takaoka_library
In the evening when lights come on in the library and community center, the entire area looks beautifully illuminated. (Image: yusuhara.kochi.jp)

Once visitors enter the library, they have to take their shoes off. Walking in socks on the floor helps in feeling the cozy warmth of the cedar floor. Visitors can take books from the library and read them anywhere in the open space.

The community center

Along with the library, there is a community center at the same location and even that has been designed and built by Kengo Kuma and Associates. In the center, traditional Japanese paper, or washi, was combined with local tree bark by longtime local resident Rogier Uitenboogaart and his Japanese wife. Rogier moved to Japan from Holland to study washi papermaking over 30 years ago.

Needless to say that the design is amazing. The washi is applied on the walls of the welfare center, which imparts a feeling of warmth and comfort in the space, helping people to relax and unwind as much as possible.

In the evening when lights come on in the library and community center, the entire area looks beautifully illuminated.

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Max Lu
Max Lu is an author who specializes in Asian geopolitics.
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