Frank Lloyd Wright Returns
With municipal buildings in central Japan, Kengo Kuma pays homage to a local stone and a foreign master
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 2/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
Frank Lloyd Wright's Imperial Hotel in Tokyo was demolished almost four decades ago, but the building lives on in the mind of Kengo Kuma. Commissioned by the mayor of Takanezawa, 60 miles to the north, to design two public facilities, the architect used the same greenish-gray lava stone that Wright had, back in 1916. It's still quarried, in fact, not far from Takanezawa. "I thought they should be dignified buildings, ones that take deep root in this locale," Kuma explains of the 3,200-square-foot gallery and the 4,600-square-foot community center, known collectively as Chokkura Plaza.
"The stone has a split personality," he continues. Generally, of course, stone is hard. But this particular type has a soft exterior with a bean-paste texture pronounced enough to give the stone a porous quality, earning the nickname miso. He compares the effect to a "big sponge full of holes"—only considerably stronger. Teaming up with a stone mason and an engineer, Kengo Kuma & Associates devised a system to use the stone as a structural material, not mere cladding. Segments of approximately 8 by 10 by 34 inches are supported by steel bars, diagonally positioned to produce slight angles in between. As a result, a facade can become a delicate lattice, backed by polycarbonate panels, instead of an impervious barrier. Think Issey Miyake's pleats in architectural form.
Both buildings are single-story, but distinctions are significant. The community center, an adaptive-reuse project, is a pitch-roofed rice warehouse from the early 1900's. Its exterior now features two areas of latticework; the rest is standard blocks of lava stone. New construction, the flat-roofed gallery pavilion is entirely wrapped in latticework, also visible from inside, through the insulating panels of milky-white corrugated polycarbonate. Cut to replicate the walls' pattern, the ceiling is actually silicate calcium-board—but such a dead ringer for masonry that Wright himself might be fooled.