From “Particles” to “Organisms”
On a recent visit to Tokyo, I picked up a copy of Kengo Kuma's new book entitled, Studies in Organic, published by Toto. Kuma's work has been of special interest to me, given the depth and breadth of his experimentation with unconventional material applications. For this reason, he is one of the subjects of my upcoming book, Matter in the Floating World, which attempts to uncover the creative processes that inspire such applications.
Studies in Organic is essentially a monograph compiled by Kuma's office—an intimately-scaled, delicate, and highly-accessible tome designed by Hideki Nakajima, which contrasts nicely with the coffee table Kuma monographs compiled by others. Kuma's introductory essay alone is worth the price of the book, as it highlights his recent shift in focus from "erasing architecture" to "organic architecture."
Although Kuma's fascination with dematerialization and so-called light "particles" continue to inspire his work, his projects have assumed greater formal complexity in recent years—representing a notable departure from the geometric minimalism of projects like the Hiroshige Ando Museum. He credits the increasingly global territory of his work with this transformation, acknowledging the pressures to give greater visual presence to projects entered into international design competitions.
Kuma's competent foray in formal and structural biomimicry reinforces the strong contemporary movement in Japanese design led by architects Toyo Ito and Makoto Sei Watanabe and artist Tokujin Yoshioka. Despite Kuma's claim that architecture should not assume the aesthetics of organisms—and his critique of the 1960’s-era Metabolism movement in Japan—Studies in Organic provides validation of the growing interest in biomimetic architecture in Japan.