Roughly 2 million people visit the Dazaifu Tenmangu shrine in Japan’s Fukuoka prefecture each year, and most approach on foot, following a pavered street through a historic district. Among the shops that sell lucky wooden bullfinch carvings and sweet bean-paste-filled rice cakes called umegae mochi, there is a new, and familiar, face: the stylized siren of Starbucks.
In Dazaifu, however, the store does not follow the formula used by the coffee conglomerate’s in-house designers, a group that is stationed in 14 offices worldwide. The building owner, the Manten Corp., asked that Starbucks work with Tokyo-based Kengo Kuma & Associates (KKA) on the interior. The partnership was a good fit. “We found that his [Kuma’s] design sensibility matches our aesthetic point of view,” says Arthur Rubinfeld, president of Starbucks global development.
The Dazaifu store “is located at the main approach to one of the most prestigious and popular shrines in Japan,” says KKA principal Kengo Kuma, Hon. FAIA. “The path is lined with old, low-storied, traditional Japanese houses and shops, so we thought our design of Starbucks would best harmonize the scene.” Using a palette of modest materials, Kuma’s team designed a single-story enclosure made from razor-thin, coated-steel sheets. Inside the 210-square-meter (2,260-square-foot) café, a screed floor and chipboard walls and ceilings are impeccably detailed, but these fade to the background behind the structure’s showcase: 2,000 woven cedar sticks.
The principle, Kuma says, is to “start from a small, human-scale unit … [and carry it through] to the whole. It is one of these ideas of ours that a structure should be built up that way; everything is, in fact, made of tiny particles.” Each stick is 6 centimeters (2.3 inches) square in section, and ranges in length from 1.3 to 4 meters (4.3 to 13 feet). The pieces are woven together on the diagonal; notches carved into the sides of the sticks allow them to fit snugly together, and they are held in place with thin stainless steel pipes. The units build upon each other to form a latticework that covers the length of one wall and stretches across the ceiling plane. “The wooden weaving expresses a sense of depth,” Kuma says, “and customers of the café might feel [that] they drink coffee in a forest.”
Starbucks “continue[s] to receive comments on the store’s beautiful design,” Rubinfeld says. And though “grande no-foam triple-shot latté” might not be in the typical Japanese phrase book, it might be worth looking up before planning a trip to Dazaifu.