A Transitional Experience that Switches Between Daily Life and Art | Kengo Kuma Interview


Kengo Kuma during the interview at Whitestone Gallery Beijing

Known as the "Great Master of Wa", Kengo Kuma is an architect who has designed projects not only in Japan but also in Asia, Europe, and the rest of the world. Using his trademark architecture that connects nature, humans, and building techniques, he designed the Whitestone Gallery Seoul in South Korea that is set to open on September 2nd, 2023. We talked to him about his design for this new gallery space.

A Different Kind of Fusion of Architecture and Art on Every Floor

Whitestone Gallery Seoul

Whitestone Gallery Seoul, the company's first gallery in South Korea, sits in Yongsan District, a place known for its many historic sightseeing spots and cultural facilities. The gallery has three main exhibition spaces spanning from the basement to the fourth floor, with a total floor area of 700 square meters. It also features a scenic rooftop area designed for sculpture exhibitions. From the rooftop, visitors can enjoy a view overlooking Seoul.

ーWhitestone Gallery Seoul was built by renovating an existing building into something new. It features a different atmosphere on every floor. What kind of design characteristics did you infuse into each gallery space?

Kuma: I designed it to be a gallery space that features a lot of variety throughout the whole building, while retaining the existing skip floor. It lets visitors enjoy art and space while walking along the floors at different levels.

On the second floor, I designed several small exhibition spaces attached to a central gallery space with a high ceiling. This space can be seen from the lounge on the third floor, giving it a dynamic atmosphere. In the basement, there is a spacious exhibition room that is connected with a large stairway, creating a wide space that meanders as you move along.

The fourth floor features a quiet atmosphere, with an enclosed exhibition room and a rock garden that leads to the rooftop. The rooftop floor is a sculpture garden with a view of the Seoul cityscape, allowing visitors to enjoy art along with the nature of Seoul.

Whitestone Gallery Seoul

The sculpture garden on the rooftop deck offers a view overlooking the Seoul cityscape

Whitestone Gallery Seoul

From the Bustle of Daily Life to an Abstract Space for Art

Whitestone Gallery Seoul

One of the main features of the new Whitestone Gallery in Seoul is its glass exterior framed in black. This design incorporates the surrounding environment into the building by reflecting the sky and the nearby trees on the glass, then partitioning the image rhythmically using the exterior black beams placed at random.

ーThe Seoul gallery's building was renovated with a chic black exterior. What was your intention behind this color change?

Kuma: By making the building black, I wanted to remove its presence as an architectural structure and create a transitional experience where visitors switch their consciousness from that of urban daily life to a white, abstract space of art.

Kengo Kuma inspects the gallery during its renovation.

Whitestone Gallery Seoul

Architect Kengo Kuma's Relationship with Art

Whitestone Gallery Seoul

Kengo Kuma is known around the world as an architect, but he actually holds a deep relationship with art, and there was a time in his youth when he wavered between becoming an architect or an artist. This is why throughout his career, he has been involved with numerous projects related to art, such as the Nezu Museum (2009, Japan), the China Academy of Arts' Folk Art Museum (2015, China), and the New Hans Christian Andersen Museum (2022, Denmark).

ーYou have designed countless art museums throughout your career. Is there any art museum that you would consider a favorite?

Kuma: The most emotional one I worked on is the Victoria & Albert Dundee. It was a very difficult project, and we faced many challenges right from the intricate process up to its completion. But in the end, the citizens of Dundee gave their support and expressed their pleasure at the result. That made me happy more than anything else, and I felt rewarded for my efforts.

V&A at Dundee (©︎ Ross Fraser McLean)

V&A at Dundee (©︎ Ross Fraser McLean)

In recent years, Kengo Kuma has worked on several of Whitestone's gallery spaces, from Whitestone Gallery Taipei (2017), to Whitestone Gallery Hong Kong / H Queen's (2018), Whitestone Gallery Beijing (2023), and now Whitestone Gallery Seoul (2023). Each gallery space is woven with Kuma's unique architectural perspective and aesthetic, as well as the cultural identity of the local city. Come and experience the confluence of art and architecture at Whitestone Gallery Seoul.

Whitestone Gallery Seoul

About Kengo Kuma, Architect

Kengo Kuma (c) J.C.Carbonne

Kengo Kuma was born in 1954. He established Kengo Kuma & Associates in 1990. He is currently a University Professor and Professor Emeritus at the University of Tokyo after teaching at Keio University and the University of Tokyo. KKAA projects are currently underway in more than 30 countries. Kengo Kuma proposes architecture that opens up new relationships between nature, technology, and human beings. His major publications include Ten Sen Men (“point, line, plane”, Iwanami Shoten), Hito no Sumika (“shelters for people”, Shincho Shinsho), Makeru Kenchiku (Architecture of Defeat, Iwanami Shoten), Shizen na Kenchiku (Natural Architecture, Iwanami Shinsho), Chii-sana Kenchiku (Small Architecture, Iwanami Shinsho) and many others.

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