I flew to Finland, where Japanese architect Kengo Kuma was keen to express his enthusiasm for timber when receiving the Spirit of Nature Wood Architecture Award in Lahti last week. 'Wood sits at the centre of Japanese culture, ' Kuma said. 'I use chopsticks every day.' He says: 'My body feels uncomfortable in a concrete structure. I don't like the smell, I don't like the feeling of concrete.'
He went on to cite the sensuality of wood as an important factor in his enthusiasm. Kuma described his desire 'to blend Japanese tradition with the Modern Movement'. He is keen to use Japanese cedar which is usually overlooked in favour of cheaper, imported materials. But without the use of the native materials, the forests, which cover 60 per cent of Japan, will not go through their cycle of regeneration.
Until now most of Kuma's work has been in the countryside, but now he is working for retail giant LVMH in the heart of Tokyo, on a building with a timber-supported glazed curtain wall. In order to satisfy Japan's building regulations, he has had to design a system of external sprinklers for fire protection.