Kengo Kuma meets kogei (traditional Japanese craftsmanship): Kuma to Shika with Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten
Japanese architect, Kengo Kuma, distinguishes himself as a master of materials. His signature works almost always showcase how modern architecture can leverage natural materials such as wood, stone and even paper. For him, they aren’t just ingredients to construct buildings; they are the essential elements of his design that connect people and nature, make people’s lives more natural, take them back to basics, and is true to the environment to which they belong.
It is exciting to see that he is now collaborating with 中川政七商店 (Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten), a company in the Nara prefecture (the ancient Japanese capital near Kyoto) founded in 1716 as a merchant of Nara-zarashi, a special linen fabric sought for its high quality, especially for the pure whiteness and unique hand-crafted texture. Nara-zarashi is produced using an incredibly labor- and skill-intensive process to achieve the highest quality. Nakagawa Shoten accumulated the know-how to support and market skill-intensive, the high-quality kogei (traditional Japanese crafts) industry by working with the producers. 300 years since its inception, it is still maintaining unique and strong brand by innovating ways to keep traditional kogei relatable in modern society, which is not an easy job at all. As part of this initiative, Kuma and Nakagawa Shoten have launched a new product line named “Kuma to Shika,” featuring Kuma’s unique perspectives on materials and know-how in leveraging architectural materials. By the way, Kuma to Shika means “bear to deer”. “Kuma” can mean bear phonetically, and deer are Nara’s state animal.
組木の飾り棚 (Wood Shelving Using Traditional Joinery)
組木 (kumiki) is a traditional Japanese method of joinery. It’s been used in Japanese architecture for more than a thousand years to provide strong structural and aesthetic accents. As it is incredibly geometric and intricate, it can support large structures without glue or nails. Kuma to Shika transformed the traditional kumiki method into a geometric puzzle; you can assemble asymmetric pieces to create book shelves with unique shapes.
飛散防止シートのバッグ (Tote bags made of industrial mesh sheet)
This is Kuma’s material magic. Kuma to Shika transformed industrial mesh sheets used on construction sites to cover unfinished buildings into tote bags! The fabric is thin but very sturdy, and exhibits a unique texture. The bags are pleated so that you can fold them small. Functionality and aesthetics almost always coexist in this architect’s mind.
タイルのマグネット (Tile magnets)
Ceramic production forms a large part of traditional Japanese kogei and there are several regions famous for it. Mino (current the Gifu Prefecture) is one of them, and Mino-yaki (ceramics made in Mino) has been known for its varieties and diverse styles for hundreds of years. Today, Mino-yaki tiles are often used to finish buildings for both interior and exterior. Kima to Shika is introducing Mino-yaki magnets to offer beautiful accents for your daily life.
和紙の折りタペストリー (Origami-like tapestry made of washi, traditional Japanese paper)
Washi is traditional Japanese paper made from long fibers extracted from specific plant species, usually kozo or mitsumata. Although it boasts beautiful texture and surprising strength, washi production is very labor- and skill-intensive. Today, it is mostly used for very special occasions (with washi-tape, it’s a different story). Kuma has been using washi in his projects because he is fascinated by its characteristics. Kuma to Shika blend woodchips to washi ingredients to produce a rather coarse quality to make a tapestry with origami-like geometric creases.
銅のはつり折敷 (Traditional Japanese tray made of brass with an hatsuri finish)
Hatsuri means finishing a wooden surface by scraping it with an axe. It’s a traditional Japanese method primarily used for wood in building construction, and was widely used until the 18th century. Kuma to Shika transferred the finished appearance of hatsuri to a thin brass oshiki, a traditional Japanese tray. Hatsuri provides functional strength and a unique aesthetic impression.
植物で染めた花ふきん (Botanical dye dish cloths)
Before the age of mosquito repellants, Japanese used to use kaya – a canopy-like net over their beds – for sleeping during summer (mosquito season). It was woven coarsely with absorbent materials to make the humid nights a little more survivable. Kuma to Shika leveraged the kaya fabric to make dish cloths. They are highly absorbent and dry fast. The subtle colors come from botanical dyes either from kumazasa (bamboo leaves) or sugi (Japanese cedar).