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11.4: Modern Architecture (1900-1999)

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    Historically, Asian architecture has been influenced by religious traditions with characteristic pitched overhanging roofs and elevated floors. Colonialism and Western involvement in the early twentieth century dramatically changed Asia. Architects employed Modernist designs while still using traditional styles. Colonial architecture is found in the designs of buildings in the first half of the twentieth century, especially British influences in regions like India, Singapore, and coastal China. In Indonesia and Java, the Dutch brought their ideas of architectural style. 

    Thailand was one of the Asian countries that had never been colonized and had different Western styles added to the country. France colonized Indochina and left some of the original styles intact while building new settlements in French décor. After World War II, the Soviet Union and the United States had control and influence in some countries; however, local architects began to bring their ideas and designs to the region. Many well-known architects came from Asian countries and have influenced designs worldwide. Unfortunately, large areas of older parts of town were demolished to build new developments, shopping centers, and governmental buildings. Artist in this section are:

    • Ieoh Ming (I.M.) Pei (1917-2019) 
    • Charles Correa (1930-2015) 
    • Balkrishna Vithaldas (B. V.) Doshi (1927-2023) 
    • Minoru Yamasaki (1912-1986) 
    • Raj Rewal (1934-) 
    • William Lim Siew Wai (1932-2023)
    • Kengo Kuma (1954-)

    Ieoh Ming (I. M.) Pei

    Ieoh Ming (I. M.) Pei (1917-2019) has family ancestry tracked to the Ming dynasty. Pei was born in Guangdong, Republic of China, and raised in Shanghai. His family consisted of merchants who sold medicinal herbs and were considered wealthy. Pei was close to his devout Buddhist mother, who took him to meditation retreats. His mother was also a flutist, and Pei believed he was cultivated in the arts. Pei's mother died when he was thirteen, and he and his siblings were sent to live with relatives. After high school, Pei moved to the United States and received his bachelor's degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. By 1945, Pei was married, and they had their first child. Pei went to Harvard and worked with Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer, who were members of the Bauhaus in Germany and fled to the United States to escape the Nazi regime. Pei's first significant project was a plan for the Shanghai Art Museum, and he simultaneously received his master's degree from Harvard. After working for other companies, Pei started his successful firm. He has received many awards, including the famous Pritzker Prize. 

    When the jury awarded him the prize, they said, "Ieoh Ming Pei has given this century some of its most beautiful interior spaces and exterior forms ... His versatility and skill in using materials approach the level of poetry."[1]

    One of Pei's significant designs was for the Louvre Museum in Paris (11.4.1) (completed in 1989). Francois Mitterrand, the President of France then, wanted to start various projects, including renovating the Louvre. The design had to include parts of the interior and exterior.  "Pei also found the pyramid shape best suited for stable transparency and considered it "most compatible with the architecture of the Louvre, especially with the faceted planes of its roofs."[2] The design changed the entrance lobby and the lower floors. The steel and glass pyramid linked all three major buildings surrounding the plaza. At first, the project had significant opposition, so Pei made a fake replica of the pyramid in the courtyard for people to see and minimize the criticism. Today, the pyramid at the Louvre is Pei's most famous and best-liked structure.    

    a glass pyramid surrounded by stone buildings
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Louvre Museum Pyramid (1989) (CC BY-SA 3.0)
    Louvre Museum Pyramid

    The Louvre Pyramid, completed in 1989, an iconic intervention in the historic heart of Paris, stands as a testament to I. M. Pei's prowess in weaving modern architectural language into centuries-old contexts. This audacious glass and metal structure, juxtaposed against the Renaissance fabric of the Louvre Palace, offers both a contrast and a connection, marrying the traditional with the contemporary. From a planimetric perspective, the pyramid adheres to a precise geometry, rooted in the square base from which it ascends. This equilateral pyramid, with its tetrahedral symmetry, ensures that each of its four faces slopes at an identical angle, converging elegantly at the apex. This precision is not merely aesthetic but also structural, with each pane of glass and metallic strut meticulously calculated to distribute loads and maintain the structure's equilibrium. The choice of materials was pivotal in this design. Opting for clear glass panels held together by a delicate framework of stainless steel, the pyramid allows for visual permeability. This translucency ensures that, while it stands as a contemporary insertion, it does not overshadow the monumental Louvre but rather complements it. By day, it captures the sky and the surrounding edifice in reflection; by night, it transforms into a luminous beacon, guiding visitors into the museum’s depths. Engineering considerations were paramount. The glass panes, while appearing lightweight, had to adhere to rigorous structural and safety standards. They are supported by a tensioned system of steel cables and fixtures, ensuring stability against both gravity and lateral forces, such as wind. This tensioned system, combined with the inherent stability of the pyramid form, negates the need for bulky supports, rendering the structure seemingly ethereal. Below ground, the pyramid serves as a luminous atrium, funneling daylight into the expansive reception area of the Louvre. Here, I. M. Pei's masterful spatial planning becomes evident. The pyramid, beyond its symbolic and aesthetic roles, functions as a nexus, streamlining visitor circulation between the three wings of the museum.


    Although Pei was young and relatively unknown, Jacqueline Kennedy insisted Pei be appointed from the list of candidates to design President Kennedy's library (11.4.2) (completed in 1979). The triangular library had nine stories to contain Kennedy's papers, hold exhibitions, and educate visitors about Kennedy's presidency. After entering the building, visitors come to the soaring memorial pavilion containing only a mammoth American flag hanging high above and windows allowing a view of the sky, land, and sea. 

     ~ Its openness is the essence ~ 

    Pei considered the library his most important commission and wrote, "Its openness is the essence. After witnessing the film and leaving the concentrated exhibition area with its many photographs and memorabilia, people will conclude their visit to the library in a restful place where they can linger, look at the view, and reflect on what they have seen. In the silence of that high, light-drenched space, the visitors will be alone with their thoughts. And in the reflective mood that the architecture seeks to engender, they may find themselves thinking of John F. Kennedy differently. In the skyline of his city, in the distant horizons toward which he led us, in the canopy of space into which he launched us, visitors may experience revived hope and promise for the future."[3]

    glass and stone building and triangle shape
    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): John F. Kennedy Library  (Fcb981, CC BY-SA 3.0)
    JFK Library

    I.M. Pei, one of the most heralded of 20th century architects, died on May 16, 2019 at the age of 102. In this "CBS Sunday Morning" report which aired on October 21, 1979, Pei talked with correspondent Marlene Sanders as they toured Boston's newly-dedicated John F. Kennedy Presidential Library (which he designed), and discussed creating a public space that captured the essence, and promise, of the man who was our nation's 35th president.


    The National Center for Atmospheric Research (11.4.3) (1966 completion) is located on top of a large mesa above the towns and in front of the Front Range mountains. Using Brutalist design principles, Pei divided the building into two parts and scaled the buildings to blend into the landscape. He also followed Mesa Verde's and some other indigenous sites' designs. The walls, courtyards, and stairs visually connect to the surrounding mountains and mesas. The windows are darkly tinted, and it is impossible to determine how many stories are in the building, and they appear almost as voids. Pei used straight geometrical shapes broken occasionally by a curve. The warm concrete walls were colored to blend into the natural environment. Pei said about the site, "I recalled the places I had seen with my mother when I was a little boy—the Buddhist mountaintop retreats. There in the Colorado mountains, I tried to listen to the silence again—just as my mother had taught me. The investigation of the place became a kind of religious experience for me."[4]

    tall brown stone building with irregular shapes
    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): National Center for Atmospheric Research (Daderot, CC BY-SA 3.0)
    Video Title

    The Mesa Laboratory, headquarters of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), is considered by many to be a modern architectural masterpiece. The NCAR site was designed by world-renowned architect, I. M. Pei. The construction of the unique concrete and stone building was completed in 1966 with NCAR's primary sponsor, the National Science Foundation, providing the construction funds for the lab. Pei based his design on an adaptation of the centuries-old Anasazi Indian cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park in southwest Colorado. Usually described as “futuristic, ” the Mesa Laboratory also has been compared to a medieval fortress, a Spanish castle, and a modern day Stonehenge. Pei considers the Mesa Laboratory to be one of his personal favorites and a major turning point in his illustrious career. Although the arrangement of pieces within the complex appears random, it is actually carefully planned. Pei organized the offices and laboratories within two tall towers to make sure researchers could have time alone, yet the maze-like atmosphere of the building encourages casual meetings in the halls and common areas, which Walter Roberts, NCAR’s founding director, believed were an important part of scientific research and deliberation. The Mesa Laboratory is a collection of abstract, geometric unfinished concrete forms that look a bit like the surrounding western landscape. The unfinished dark reddish-brown concrete walls are similar in color to the rocks of the “Flatiron” outcrops towering to the west side of the Laboratory. To match the color of the rocks, and make the building look like a part of the landscape, sand, ground from a nearby quarry, was added to the concrete. The NCAR building's design showcases the hallmarks of Modernist architecture, featuring clean lines, geometric forms, and a seamless integration of concrete and glass elements. The facade, primarily composed of precast concrete panels, exudes a contemporary and refined appearance. The concrete surfaces provide both durability and visual appeal, while the expansive glass windows add a touch of transparency, revealing stunning views of the surrounding natural landscape. Inside the NCAR building, the layout is thoughtfully organized to facilitate efficient workflows and encourage collaboration among researchers. The interconnected wings house cutting-edge laboratories, functional offices, and versatile meeting spaces. The interior design exemplifies Pei's vision for a harmonious environment that fosters innovation and interdisciplinary research, reflecting the institution's commitment to atmospheric studies. Large glass windows play a pivotal role in the building's Modernist design, inviting abundant natural light to envelop the interior spaces. This not only creates a welcoming and productive atmosphere for researchers but also establishes a strong connection between the building's occupants and the breathtaking landscape outside. The transparency of the facade allows researchers to remain in harmony with nature, inspiring their work and reinforcing the building's identity as a research facility nestled within the surrounding environment. Pei's design for the NCAR building incorporates sustainability principles, underscoring its alignment with the natural environment. The orientation of the building optimizes passive solar strategies, harnessing the sun's energy for natural heating and cooling. The thoughtful use of materials and the integration of energy-efficient technologies highlight the institution's commitment to environmentally responsible design.


    Pei was unfamiliar with the concept of rock and roll music, always saying he was a classical person, and it was a very controversial choice to design the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum (11.4.4). Pei stated, "It was my intention to echo the energy of rock and roll. I have consciously used an architectural vocabulary that is bold and new, and I hope the building will become a dramatic landmark for the city of Cleveland and for fans of rock and roll around the world."[5]  The building sits on the waterfront with a square, six-story tower as the anchor. The rest of the structure is made of glass walls in a metal grid, creating balconies, bridges, and stairs in unusual places. A round section appears like a stack of records on the turntable. 

    tall building with glass and stone in a triangle shape
    Figure \(\PageIndex{4}\): Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum (1995) (Michael Barera, CC BY-SA 4.0)

    Charles Correa 

    Charles Correa (1930-2015) was an architect and urban planner. He was born in Hyderabad State, British India, during British colonial rule. Correa received his bachelor's degree at the University of Michigan and master's at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After establishing his business, Correa founded the Urban Research Institute to research ways to improve urban communities and protect the environment, especially in overcrowded India. Many of the buildings Correa designed were for low-income and luxury housing, focused on designs based on local cultural interests, and rejected the concepts of cold glass and style buildings. Part of Correa's style was adding and incorporating outdoor spaces into his designs and returning ideals from ancient Indian architecture. Architect David Adjaye stated, "Charles Correa is a highly significant architect, globally and for India. His work is the physical manifestation of the idea of Indian nationhood, modernity, and progress. His vision sits at the nexus defining the contemporary Indian sensibility and it articulates a new Indian identity with a language that has a global resonance. He is someone who has that rare capacity to give physical form to something as intangible as 'culture' or 'society' – and his work is therefore critical: aesthetically; sociologically; and culturally."[6]

    Fundação Champalimaud (11.4.5) is located in Lisbon, Portugal as a center for research and diagnostics. Correa said, "What makes me most proud about this project is that it is NOT a Museum of Modern Art. On the contrary, it uses the highest levels of contemporary science and medicine to help people grappling with real problems; cancer, brain damage, and going blind. And to house these cutting-edge activities, we tried to create a piece of architecture. Architecture as Sculpture. Architecture as Beauty. Beauty as therapy."[7] Located by the ocean, the structure (11.4.6) has three main areas for research laboratories, offices, meeting spaces, and a tropical outdoor garden. The sloped pathway leads to two massive stones and then the water. Made from stainless steel, the sky and clouds are reflected.      

    glass tube connecting a stone circle building
    Figure \(\PageIndex{5}\): Fundação Champalimaud (Portuguese_eyesCC BY-SA 2.0)
    ocular window into a building
    Figure \(\PageIndex{6}\): Fundação Champalimaud (Portuguese_eyesCC BY-SA 2.0)

    Correa used ancient Indian principles in much of his work, and his design for the Jawahar Kala Kendra Center was based on the concepts of vastu shastra and in vastu shastra, architecture, and nature mutually cherished ancient beliefs for the layout of a building or the symmetry of a design based on geometric patterns. The building has nine squares surrounding a central open square (11.4.7). One square is pulled away from the building, allowing for the courtyard and entrance. The design was based on the map of the city of Jaipur. In ancient times, Jaipur was structured in a plan of the nine planets of Navagraha. Jai Singh the Second was a scholar, mathematician, and astronomer who designed the original city based on the old, nine-squared Vedic mandala. However, a hill was in the way of the ninth square, so the space was moved to accommodate the hill. Correa followed the same idea and pulled one square out, leaving room for the entrance. 

    square pieces of boards cutout in a town scene
    Figure \(\PageIndex{7}\): Jawahar Kala Kendra layout (ChainwitCC BY-SA 4.0)

    The art center (11.4.8) blends the past and present. The walls in each square are similar to the past fortification walls surrounding the city. The squares correspond to the actual planets and the ancient people's imaginary planets. Each building is surrounded by red sandstone walls (11.4.9). In the center is the courtyard and a place to meet. Each building had a symbol of marble and granite inlaid into the walls, representing each planet. 

    red brick stones stacked like a building
    Figure \(\PageIndex{8}\): Jawahar Kala Kendra (1986) (ChainwitCC BY-SA 4.0)
    large stones arranged in a wall
    Figure \(\PageIndex{9}\): Central courtyard wall (Meena Kadr, CC BY-SA 2.0)
    Volume Zero

    Documentary of Jawahar Kala Kendra


    Balkrishna Vithaldas (B. V.) Doshi 

    Balkrishna Vithaldas (B. V.) Doshi (1927-2023) received the Pritzker Prize in 2018, the first Indian architect to win the prestigious award. He was born in Pune, Bombay Presidency, British India. When he was ten months old, Doshi's mother died, and assorted family members raised him. Today, he still walks with a limp from when he was injured in a fire at age eleven. Doshi studied architecture at the Sir J. J. School of Art in Mumbai. He also studied in Europe and returned to India as a fellow at the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, where he established the School of Architecture. Doshi is also a founding member of the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology and other art and research centers. When the Pritzker Architecture Prize committee announced his award, the jury stated, "Doshi has always created an architecture that is serious, never flashy or a follower of trends, and his deep sense of responsibility and a desire to contribute to his country and its people through high quality, authentic architecture."[8]  

    Amdavad Ni Gufa (11.4.10) is an unusual partnership between the artist and the architect. The two discussed the concepts of an art gallery for over thirty years before they decided on the project. The structure was made underground to moderate the heat and reflect sunlight. Outside and above ground are shell-like openings acting as the roof for the cave below. The shells were made from bars and mesh as a base for the cement cover. Local people added compacted vermiculite and mosaic pieces. Snake-like shapes were added to the covers. Inside the gallery is the artist Maqbool Fida Hussain's murals. The cave inside (11.4.11) is covered with a cement floor undulated with tree-like columns that appear to hold up the roof. The underground spaces are connected; like an actual cave, the interior tends to be hot and humid. The unusual space and function had the Architect Magazine wonder, "The form and space of Gufa animate the mysteries of light and memories. Challenges between an artist and an architect give birth to the most unexpected. Searching the uncommon meant raising fundamental questions – what is the meaning of function, space, and technology – amidst structure and form."[9]

    white metal igloo like structures on concrete
    Figure \(\PageIndex{10}\): Amdavad ni Gufa (1995) (Vaishal Dalal, CC BY-SA 3.0)
    concrete pillars with black dancing figures on the wall
    Figure \(\PageIndex{11}\): Amdavad ni Gufa interior (Sushant savla, CC BY-SA 4.0)

    Tagore Hall (11.4.12) is located in Ahmedabad and is considered to have been designed using brutalist architecture. The style of architecture was based on rough surfaces, heavy-looking designs, small windows, and generally straight lines. Doshi designed Tagore Hall with multiple rigid frames of concrete resembling folded plates that are seventeen meters high. The soil in the area was soft sand, and Doshi had to use a combination of individual and strip footings for the building. He used concrete and brick to make the angular geometric look. The design was not decorative and had a minimalistic feel. On the east and west sides are concrete panels with a porch and foyer as the entrance. 

    concrete building with triangle columns
    Figure \(\PageIndex{12}\): Tagore Memorial Hall (1971) (Imfarhad7, CC BY-SA 4.0)

    Minoru Yamasaki

    Minoru Yamasaki (1912-1986) was the son of Japanese immigrants to the United States, and he was born in Seattle, Washington. After receiving his bachelor's degree from the University of Washington, he moved to New York City. He was working for the company that designed the Empire State Building, and the company helped Yamasaki and his parents avoid interment in the Japanese American relocation camps of World War II. Yamasaki and Edward Durell Stone became known as the masters of the 'New Formalism' style of architecture. This style included buildings based on strict symmetrical designs with colonnades, entablatures, and elegant materials of marble or travertine. The architecture was also a salute to modern monumentality and was used for high-profile, governmental, or other high-tech structures. 

    For his first widely celebrated project and international fame, Yamasaki designed the Pacific Science Center (11.4.13) as part of the 1962 Seattle World's Fair. Today, the center is a scientific, educational site for all ages. The walls were made from precast concrete pieces, and the arches Yamasaki used in different designs were formed. Four hundred seventy-five precast wall panels were made and transported to the site to build the six windowless concrete shells. When the building was made, it was the first time a large amount of precast concrete was used in the United States. Yamasaki adds five lit towers with arches resembling gothic structures as a visual anchor. He received a lot of criticism for the arches and fountains. However, today, the architecture is well-known and liked. In a magazine article by Amy Janof stated, "The fountain court, with its floating terraces and iconic arches, sends my imagination soaring today just as much as it did decades ago on elementary-school field trips. It's civic architecture at its best — emotional, inspiring, and poetic."[10] The building made Yamasaki so well known that he appeared on Time magazine's cover. 

    an ariel view with a dome building
    Figure \(\PageIndex{13}\): Pacific Science Center (1962) (CC BY-SA 4.0)

    Yamasaki's best-known building was the New York City World Trade Center (11.4.14). The height of the towers presented unique design problems Yamasaki had to overcome. His first problem was how to build efficient elevator systems. He created the 'Skylobby' system with three separate and connected systems working in different parts of the building. Yamasaki only needed thirty percent of the standard elevator shaft systems to work in the various zones. The space saved allowed additional office floors.

    Another problem Yamasaki had to solve was anchoring the exceptionally tall towers into the bedrock beneath the soft soil. He designed a method of using narrow trenches and creating slurry walls of clay and water to hold back the river water, and then he used concrete and steel cables. It was the first time the slurry process was used on enormous structures. Another problem for Yamasaki was dealing with the wind and how much the buildings could sway. They developed a vertical and horizontal truss system for support and needed fewer internal pillars. The Twin Towers no longer exist as they were destroyed when terrorists flew airplanes into the towers, and they collapsed in 2001, killing thousands of people. 

    Ariel view of New York with two large twin towers of glass and concrete
    Figure \(\PageIndex{14}\): World Trade Center (1973-2001) (Jeffmock, CC BY-SA 3.0)

    Raj Rewal 

    Raj Rewal (1934-) is from Hoshiarpur, Punjab, India, and lived in Delhi as a child. He earned his degree in architecture from the Delhi School of Architecture and went to London to study at their architectural schools. His first work was in Paris before he moved back to Delhi. Rewal focuses on humane architecture and the intersections of climate and architecture. His architecture deals with the complexities of rapid urbanization, particularly in those areas threatened by overpopulation. Housing has become one of his focus areas in dealing with the issues of housing within the problems of climate change. Many of Rewal's projects are based on low- to middle-income housing and how large numbers of dwellings can be built to take advantage of the sun and wind.

    One of Rewal's signatures is his constant use of "concrete structure with block in-fill, usually clad in the beige and red sandstone used in many historic buildings, gives his architecture a signature quality. The sense of stability and mass in his works are somewhat offset by their verticality and cantilevering of forms, as is evident in his"[11]  Parliament Library (11.4.15). Rewal used red sandstone cladding and patterns matching old Indian structures. The building has a plaza under a central roof with trees grouped near the north end. Two of the four floors are underground, and only the domes of the library stretch above the ground, leaving an unobstructed view of the parliament building in the background. The domes are different sizes and made from lightweight cement, steel cables, and glass. The reflective glass allows light in and keeps heat out while allowing people to view the sky. Rewal was inspired by the ancient Indian mandala and its spiritual meaning. The courtyards are used for social interactions and help keep the air cooler in Delhi's hot summers. 

    several dome buildings in a pod setting
    Figure \(\PageIndex{15}\): Parliament Library (CC BY-SA 4.0)

    The Hall of Nations (11.4.16) was the first and largest structure made from concrete. The building was "a new step in the development of modernity in terms of aesthetic, constructive innovation, and social engagement."[12] The hall was constructed for India's twenty-fifth anniversary of independence from England. Based on a geometrical pattern of spaces, the design allows air to circulate and obstructs direct sun rays. The hall was twenty-one meters high and spanned seventy-eight meters, allowing an exhibition room. The Hall of Nations was considered an iconic structure because of its distinctive and revolutionary design that challenged standard architectural designs. Recently, the Hall of Nations was demolished. Bulldozers came in the dark of night and tore the structure down. The location was needed for future development. The hall is now lost to history, and its demolition has raised significant concern about why this happened. 

    half a pyramid constructed out of wooden planks
    Figure \(\PageIndex{16}\): Hall of Nations (1972-2017) (Reply.rajrewal, CC BY-SA 4.0)

    William Lim Siew Wai 

    William Lim Siew Wai (1932-2023) was born in Hong Kong before moving to Singapore, where he lived the rest of his life. He received his degree in architecture from the Architectural Association School of Architecture in England and then went to Harvard University for graduate studies. Working in Singapore and Malaysia, Lim focused most of his work on large complexes for both commercial and residential properties. Lim also authored multiple books focusing on how architecture related globally within the confines of social justice.

    The Marine Parade Community Building (11.4.17) was constructed to help consolidate multiple community groups in one place. The building is home to community clubs, the library, and a professional theatre group. The basketball court (11.4.18) is part of the glass-walled gymnasium and sports hall. The covers on the roof appear like the leaves of palm trees. The library covers four floors in the building with glass walls and incorporates abundant seating. One of the floors contains a large community theatre stage and seating. 

    large circular wooden building
    Figure \(\PageIndex{17}\): Marine Parade Community Building (1997) (Sengkang, CC BY-SA 3.0)
    interior of a gym with people playing basketball
    Figure \(\PageIndex{18}\): Basketball court (Sengkang, CC BY-SA 3.0)

    The Golden Mile Complex (11.4.19) is located in Singapore and was constructed as a commercial and residential building for the ethnic Thai population living in Singapore. The complex had offices, shopping, entertainment facilities, and residential areas. The design of stepped terraces places the architectural style as Brutalism. Brutalism started in England and showcased the building material and structural design instead of the decorative look. The design had angular geometric shapes and incorporated all city elements, including access to public transportation. The upper floors are apartments, and the narrow sloping walls bring natural ventilation. The lower floors of offices and shopping malls and the alternated central areas bring natural light to the building. 

    concrete building with stair stepped yellow rooms
    Figure \(\PageIndex{19}\): Golden Mile Complex (1973) (Sengkang, CC BY-SA 3.0)

    Kengo Kuma

    Kengo Kuma (1954-) is an emeritus professor at the University of Tokyo in the Department of Architecture. He was born in Yokohama, Japan, and graduated from the University of Tokyo before going to Columbia University for further research. He taught at colleges in the United States before returning to Tokyo. Towards the end of the twentieth century, the heavy modernist buildings were no longer in style. Kuma wanted to design buildings based on older, traditional Japanese methods reinterpreted into new styles. He also focused on nature's light and how space interacts with the light. Kuma brought innovation to the materials and used Japanese artisans in his designs to use wood, stone, and glass in modern designs. He has established a research laboratory to help re-engineer urban planning, architectural designs, the use of materials, and sustainability. Kuma has written several books supporting his ideas of changing architectural styles and has received many awards, including the prestigious Pritzker Award. 

    Kengo Kuma

    Learn more about architect Kengo Kuma, whose work appears in the Royal Academy exhibition 'Sensing Spaces: Architecture Reimagined'.

    Additional text/introduction.

    Asakusa Culture and Tourism Center (11.4.20) was constructed as a tourist center and an exhibition space, conference rooms, and other multi-purpose halls. The buildings appear as separately stacked buildings, all projecting their angles. Each section is not the same as typical floors or stories. Some spaces have angled inner roofs for smaller spaces, and some rooms have high, open-volume ceilings, creating asymmetrical voids between each floor. Kuma said, "We are too used to the idea that the floors have to be flat, but I hope I was able to inspire people to re-think the relationships of buildings and floors."[13] The first and second floors have atriums providing space to view the different floors from inside. The exterior of the building reflects Kuma's use of wood based on Japanese tradition.

    irregular building with orange columns  and glass
    Figure \(\PageIndex{20}\): Asajysa Culture Tourist Center (2012) (Kakidai, CC BY-SA 3.0)

    Kuma based his Doric building (11.4.21) on the concepts of the Doric column. At the end of the building, the massive column contains twenty parallel vertical grooves, frequently called flutes. The column does not have any other ornamentation at the top or bottom. In Japan, there is limited space in the cities for additional buildings, and any space available is utilized. In this building, Kuma utilized the small space by going up and giving the building its character by anchoring it to a doric column on one end. The Doric building was one of his early structures still exhibiting the solid, heavy cement materials before he changed to lighter, more minimalist, and ephemeral buildings. 

    a skinny building built on a column
    Figure \(\PageIndex{21}\): Doric Building (1991) (WiiiiCC BY-SA 3.0)

    The Sunny Hills (11.4.22) shop specializes in selling pineapple cake, a popular dessert. The shop is constructed in the shape of a bamboo basket. In Japanese wooden architecture, the traditional method for making the joints is Jiigoku-Gumi. The vertical and horizontal pieces are the same width and intertwined to form a grid and create a structure like a cloud. They did not want a concrete box because the building was in a residential area. This construction feels almost like a forest. Over 5000 meters of wooden pieces were used in construction. Kuma stated, "Our aim was to create a forest in the busy city centre. We studied how lighting states would change in a day in the woods and came up with a shape like a basket. I consider that wood joints without glues or nails are the essence of Japanese architecture. What is characteristic about Sunny Hills is the angle of the lattice; unlike the conventional 90 degrees, we tried 30 degrees and 60 degrees to combine the pieces."[14] The visitor enters the shop at one corner with seating inside (11.4.23).

    pieces of skinny wood put together into a freeform house structure
    Figure \(\PageIndex{22}\): Sunny Hills (2013) (準建築人手札網站 ForgemindCC BY 2.0)
    wooden shouse with a table and chairs inside.
    Figure \(\PageIndex{23}\): Sunny Hills interior (準建築人手札網站 ForgemindCC BY 2.0)
    Sunny Hills


    A visit to Kengo Kuma's Sunny Hills. I think this is one of Kuma's best buildings, but there is a deeper story behind his design (I think). This approach searching for a different direction in Japanese architecture has been very successful for Kuma, he is building projects around the world. But look carefully in the video to see the traditional craftsmanship of Jigoku Gumi and then in counting the nails, you can see that it is not so traditional after all...




    [1] I M Pei

    [2] Ibid.

    [3] The John Fitzgerald Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

    [4] Shaping an architectural legend: what inspired I.M. Pei?


    [6] 'India’s Greatest Architect' Charles Correa

    [7] Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown / Charles Correa Associates

    [8] Retrieved from Rajghatta, Chidanand (8 March 2018). “B V Doshi 1st Indian to win ‘Nobel’ for architecture. The Times of India

    [9] Amdavad Ni Gufa

    [10] Blast From The Past: The Fascinating History Of Pacific Science Center’s Architecture

    [11] 20th Century Architecture

    [12] The Demolition of Delhi's Hall of Nations Reveals India's Broken Attitude to Architectural Heritage


    [14] De Zeen

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