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Kengo Kuma: ‘Gothic architecture wasn’t a conscious influence. But I love Gothic’

Felix Mara interviews Kengo Kuma

I chose to display in dead-end spaces. This created a contrast with the other exhibitors’ installations. There’s no daylight from lanterns in the spaces I display in.

Darkness was very important to me and helped me focus on the installations at a smaller scale. It’s also very important in traditional Japanese architecture. In this installation, the darkness helped me contrast all the values of the materials. It’s kind of yin and yang, with deep contrasts.

Darkness also emphasises the distinctive scent in each installation: an indigenous Japanese cypress for one and tatami mats for the other. I wanted to control the density of these smells, and they were more important than the visual effect, although the construction of the bamboo structure did present challenges: it was very difficult to co-ordinate the rods’ spans.

The Japanese smell ceremony which influenced my installation, kōdō, has similarities to chadō, the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. It’s like a game where people identify different types of wood by smell. The first time I experienced kōdō I couldn’t guess correctly, but then I got better.

I remember the strong impression the smell of the tatami mats in my childhood home in a traditional Japanese house made on me. The other scent used in the installation, the Japanese cypress, is used in traditional shrines.

As a child I attended a Jesuit school and I remember the role of incense in Roman Catholic liturgy. The phase of Gothic architecture known as Flamboyant, which some compare to my installation, wasn’t a conscious influence. But I love Gothic: it’s a total contrast to the strong, solid forms of Classical architecture.

  • Interview by Felix Mara

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