Kengo Kuma Lecture
October 8, 2008, 10:24 am
Filed under: Lectures

[photo by dbox]

On Monday night BUILD attended the Kengo Kuma lecture at the Seattle Public Library which was a part of the Space.City lecture series. Kuma graduated from the University of Tokyo and Columbia University and then went on to create Kengo Kuma and Associates in 1990. Kuma has a unique way of design in that space becomes more important than the object. He embraces traditional Japanese architecture while implementing new technologies to create beautiful forms. Kuma believes with ever increasing increasing globalization, “place” is becoming more important and that we need embrace the uniqueness of these places in order to maintain individuality.

Many of Kuma’s projects blend with the surrounding environment. He used the term “architecture of disappearance” where the architecture becomes a part of the landscape and the building “sees” rather than being seen.

The Kiro-San Observatory cuts into the mountain and only reveals itself where key views are important.

[photo courtesy of Kengo Kuma & Associates]

The Kitakami Canal Museum is another example of architecture “seeing” rather than being seen.

[photo from Architecture Now 2 by Philip Jodido]


[photo by Weisheng]

Kuma uses local materials in many of his projects. In the Nakagama-machi Bato Hiroshige Museum of Art he uses cedar from the surrounding mountains. Since the wood is used to the climate he feels that it will better perform under these familiar conditions.

[photo courtesy of Kengo Kuma & Associates]

The Great (Bamboo) Wall uses, once again, a natural bamboo material in several ways.  Kuma uses large bamboo as form work for concrete similar to a sonatube that stays in place.

[photo by Ang Morh]

Adobe Repository of Buddha Statue. The blocks from this structure are made from adobe.

[photo courtesy of]

Depth of space is a prevelant theme in Kuma’s architecture. Depth of space creates a certain complexity in a project. Kuma uses many transparent layers to achieve this effect.
Lotus House

[photos courtesy of Kengo Kuma & Associates]

Kuma feels that it is very important for the architect to have a good relationship with the craftsman. This allows for the architect to better understand how materials behave and how new methods can be achieved. The Stone Museum uses a stone, a heavy material, to create a light airy effect.

[photo by e/qual]

Chokkura Plaza

[photos by oTov]

Kuma also enjoys experimenting with materials on his own. He has created several Tea Houses out of new materials but has maintained the overall themes of the traditional Tea House.
Inflatable Tea House

[photo by archidaiski0001]


Gwendolyn Wright Lecture

[Photo by Don Purdue]

On Wednesday night Gwendolyn Wright finished up the UW spring lecture series with an exceptional talk on the history of modern architecture. Gwendolyn is a professor at Columbia University, hosts a PBS television series and has authored a half-dozen books. She gave an eloquent hour-and-a-half discourse and displayed passion for the subject matter from beginning to end. In short, she’s a total rock-star. For those of you who missed it, we’ve included some highlights below – muddied by our incredulous memories and dubious writing skills:

Powerhouse and gantry crane, Kentucky Dam by Roland Wank, 1933-1945

The lecture emphasized the importance of pluralism in design and stressed that good architecture should develop different responses to diverse conditions. These conditions of culture, philosophy, politics, and art are always changing and fluctuating and so the architectural responses shift. Even the vernacular is always changing. The synergy in modern architecture comes from the muddy intersection of these factors.

State Capitol Bank, Oklahoma City by Roloff, Bailey, Bozalis, Dickinson, 1963

There is no “true” modernism; no “pure” form of modernism. There is no such thing as this purity that so many of us seek. Modernism was not born in 1932 as most of us were taught in school.

Home of the future by Irving Gill, 1916

Evolving architectures become hybrids – some awkward, some beautiful, but all necessary to the evolution of architecture. The varieties of modernism allow the more powerful forms to succeed. Places and times unexpectedly flourish. Some of the freak accidents become some of the greatest studies and forms of inspiration.

University of Miami by Marion Manley and Robert Law Weed, 1948-9

Most of Wright’s studies and examples were off the radar, periphery to the mainstream architectural world, authored by the unknowns; a bank in Oklahoma, an urban prison, a gantry crane in Kentucky.

Metropolitan Correction Center by Harry Weese, Chicago, 1975

Some of the greatest examples of modern architecture are the public work projects by architects in the 1800’s before such work was passed off to the engineers. This work includes dams and sewage treatment plants. Although such project types seem to lack architectural glamour they are incredible opportunities for a modern design language.

Chiller Cogeneration Plant, UCLA Los Angeles by Holt Hinshaw Jones & Ralph M. Parsons, Inc., 1992-94

There is also the diversity and unexpectedness of time. As architects we have very little control over what becomes of our buildings. What is done with your design can be different that what you intended.

The use of history in architecture is to provide this perspective of pluralism – to show what needed to be explored to get to where we are. To reinforce this idea of experimentation in the present – to mine our cultural conditions for new forms and patterns of architecture.

Hoover Dam, 1928- 1938

For more, pick up her new book about Modern Architectures in History which focuses on the USA.

Behnisch Architects Lecture
January 31, 2008, 4:02 pm
Filed under: Architecture, Lectures, Rural Architecture, Urban Architecture

Map Behnisch Architects Lecture

Last night the UW kicked off their winter lecture series with Christof Jantzen of Behnisch Architects. Based in Stuttgart, Boston and Los Angeles, Behnisch focuses on environmentally functional work; or in their own words “the pursuit of excellence in the built environment, while carefully respecting both needs and available resources”. The talk on “Sustainable strategies between Europe and North America” was a bit dry but the content was good. Here’s the recap along with our token commentary.

Jantzen mentioned that the concept of sustainable design in the U.S. is often misused – the Behnischian definition of sustainability takes into account factors of economy, environment and culture. He suggested that a person’s individual well-being is rarely taken into consideration in building design.

The Institute for Forestry and Nature Research (IBN) in Wageningen, Holland uses an interior garden to balance temperature extremes; the garden also provides gorgeous views and usable space for employees.

Institute for Forestry and Nature Research, Holland

Institute for Forestry and Nature Research, Holland

Institute for Forestry and Nature Research, Holland

Some very practical ideas were brought up such as clothing as a means to help with temperature balance. Jantzen pointed out the absurdity in air conditioning our buildings to such an extent that individuals wear sweaters in the summer time and heated to such an extent in the winter that shorts can be worn inside. A sensibility in the clothing we wear obviously improves the equation.

The Genzyme Center in Cambridge Massachusetts uses an atrium, solar chimney, sun shades and a double façade to alleviate temperature extremes before the heating and cooling systems need even be applied.

Genzyme Center

Genzyme Center

Genzyme Center

Genzyme Center

The Benischonians are interested in achieving a balance between a “positive energy ratio” and the personal enjoyment of the individual. Meaning that we must strive to consume a minimum amount of energy and resources to benefit a maximum of peoples. But, as Jantzen pointed out, the highest ratio of individuals served per amount of energy used isn’t necessarily the healthiest of environments, as his image of a Tokyo water-park indicates very powerfully.

Tokyo Waterpark

The Senscity Paradise Universe project in Las Vegas, Nevada is a conceptual project which uses enormous mechanical umbrellas for control of shade and light. Soil temperatures from deeper grades help balance the surface temperatures. The mechanical umbrellas range in size with the largest designed to be 300 feet in diameter. Given the complexity of the umbrellas and their function to let light through in the winter and block light in the summer, several audience members whispered “why don’t they just use trees?”



The Norddeutche Landesbank in Hannover, Germany employs gardens, solar chimneys and light reflectors to deal with temperature, light and the enjoyment of the inhabitants. While the building is dramatic and extremely powerful from a visual standpoint, one has to wonder at what point do the architectural complexities and structural acrobatics eradicate the environmental achievements.

Norddeutche Landesbank

Norddeutche Landesbank

Norddeutche Landesbank

Norddeutche Landesbank

Norddeutche Landesbank

The subject of low-tech vs. high-tech was discusses and Jantzen showed several very good examples of low-tech, dumb structures that are actually very intelligent in terms of their environmental design. These included pueblos, tepees, trullis, igloos and yurts

More than anything the lecture made it clear (to us) that Europe is taking environmental measures quite seriously in building design; whereas the industry in the United States seems to be responding to environmental design out of fashion and/or political correctness. Behnisch has 2 offices in the U.S. and 1 office in Europe – the data from their website suggests that they have completed 19 projects in Europe since 1996 and 1 project in the U.S. in the same time period.

Sketchbook Behnisch Lecture