Kengo Kuma’s Wall House

    – by Yue Shen –

kuma1This project, designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma is located at the foot of China’s Great Wall at Beijing. The elevations of this building mainly comprise enormous full-height glazing and slender-bamboo walls. The architect’s concept was to ‘let the buildings disappear’, which exemplifies the contemplative relationship between architecture and the natural environment.

Kengo Kuma tends to integrate the artificiality of construction with the naturalism of surrounding environment. Unfortunately, so many of his contemporaries tend to see buildings in isolation, and have little concern for context, it seems – whether in verdant countryside or in congested cities.

kuma3kuma4Kuma realizes his method of integration in this building by the use of what he calls ‘particilization’, which means to devise the particles of building in such a way that it can be seen to merge with its environment. Does the building disappear? Obviously not, but the designer wants to find the essence that exists within the site in order to combine the building with the physical environment as one integrated whole.

The concept is reflected in two aspects of his design. First is the material selection, with bamboo as a structural element (and even as the material used for some furniture in the internal space). In addition, the designer has evidently learned from the Great Wall itself and therefore the decision was made that the building should be designed to conform to the topography and materiality of the site.

In most cases, bamboos are applied as interior decoration while it is also creatively adopted as structural elements to support this building. However, bamboo is not really used for its physical characteristics but as a symbolic element of design. Bamboo is slender but strong with an inherent pliability. Hence, Kengo wants to use this material to realize an appropriate combination of architecture and nature. However, the connection will be weakened in essence if the bamboo is only used for ornamental objectives. So the structural contribution lends a greater meaning to the choice of material.

kuma5However, the language of nature, bamboo, lightness and openness sometimes comes at the cost of the real structural requirements of the design. Here for example, in order to construct a timber environment, reinforced concrete was poured into some of the bamboo shuttering to provide a naturalized unnatural structural environment. Dishonesty? Or ensuring that the building can fit with, and not distract from, its surroundings.

In order to realize the combination of building and environment in a more tactful way, Kengo Kuma decided to extract the essence of the site and blending it with the undulating ridgeline of the Great Wall. In this way, he has managed somewhat to keep the original topography for the building, which strengthens the feeling that the building has grown from the land like bamboo… instead of merely planting a building on the ground.