Kengo Kuma: Architecture for the Five Senses

Shanghai Fosun Foundation presents “Kengo Kuma: Architecture for the Five Senses,” an exhibition exploring a new architectural morphology of the future through the lens of the human senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch, based on famed international architect Kengo Kuma's post-pandemic proposal of an “Architecture for the Five Senses.” This is Kengo Kuma's largest experiential retrospective exhibition to date, touching on numerous forms including architectural models, music, fragrances, large-scale installations, multimedia art, documents, and calligraphy. This is the largest concentrated presentation of Kuma’s work and life in twenty years. The exhibition will engage the audience’s senses through multiple mediums, inspiring reflection on architecture and our lived environment.


The rise of Japanese architecture as a leader in Eastern aesthetics over the past half century has made the works of Japanese architects into part of the global human landscape, and Kengo Kuma's rebellions and innovations have been an integral component of this. Kengo Kuma was born in 1954, in Kanagawa Prefecture, and is one of Japan's most famous contemporary architects. He has dared to challenge the formal and visual-dominated architectural paradigm, insisting that the role of architecture is to improve, not to control, and that its aim is not to confine people, but to give them physical and spiritual freedom. In a rebellion against the mass-produced “box architecture” of the global industrial age, with no connections to its surroundings, Kuma proposed a series of globally influential ideas, advocating humanized, naturalistic design ideas, and engaging in a series of experiments in the interaction between the senses, architecture, and the environment, using “porous” architectural forms to bring a sense of sweeping nature to his architectural works. Kuma has proposed such ideas as the “anti-object” and “negative architecture,” advocating for architecture that disappears into nature, while spotlighting the limitations of form to emphasize the importance of experience. As Kuma says, “Form can only stimulate the vision, but the deeper senses are outside vision, which is what I want to express in the exhibition.” Kuma's works combining traditional elements and new technologies have proven popular in Japan and around the world. His representative works include the 1995 Venice Biennale Japan Pavilion, the “Great (Bamboo) Wall” in China, the Suntory Museum of Art in Japan, and his Japan National Stadium design for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which beat a rival bid by Toyo Ito's team.


Kuma enjoys using traditional elements and architectural materials as the foundation of his designs, through which he responds to modern architecture. “In the 20th century, as civil engineering continuously expanded in scale and complexity, modern architecture somehow became an industrial product at odds with nature.” In comparison, “The wood, earth, stone and other materials found in architecture from the age of manual building have a unique allure. The buildings of that time may not have been as sturdy, but this is precisely why people were able to perceive their unique properties of place. I hope my designs can reawaken these elements in modern architecture.”


Bamboo is one material in which Kengo Kuma is quite fluent. His usage of this simple, flexible material also reflects his thinking on ways of life in the post-pandemic era, particularly his reflections on the perils of concentrated living. This exhibition opens with a prologue in “bamboo.” Kuma’s newly designed installation Bamboo Passage is located at the exhibition entrance, recreating the “primal landscape” deep in his heart. Thousands of pieces of bamboo are linked together by renewable, readjustable joints. The softness and weight of the bamboo form a subtle tension, suspending bamboo curves in the air. In Bamboo Flow, a mass of bamboo strips forms into arcs of varying curvature, extending out into a leisurely spiral shape that casts shadows of a bamboo grove across an exhibition path custom made for the Fosun Foundation space, creating the sense of a tea room in a tranquil bamboo grove.


In the square outside of the Fosun Foundation, the large-scale installation Bamboo Pyramid uses metal to emulate the flexibility of bamboo strips while echoing the building's flowing golden facade, with a rising shape that evokes the flow and vitality of natural plant growth. The sandalwood aroma that fills the space within removes the viewer from the dense concrete jungle and brings them in to Kuma's sensory universe.


Unlike traditional architecture exhibitions consisting mainly of models, schematics, and video presentations, this exhibition rejects a purely visual presentation format. As Kengo Kuma sees it, a purely visual approach cannot satisfy people's rich sensory needs, because visual reception can only occupy a tiny part of the world as humans perceive it. In response, this exhibition attempts to employ all of the five human senses. Each space in the exhibition has its own fragrance, such as wood, or grass, and various models are accompanied by background music that “lures” the viewer to step into these buildings. This is the first time Kengo Kuma has incorporated music into an exhibition as interpretive footnotes to his architectural designs. These elements were created by a team led by Yuya Haryu at Tokyo University of the Arts under Kuma's guidance.


The skillful use of traditional wooden joinery is a hallmark of Kengo Kuma's architecture. In order for the audience to better understand the dual functional and aesthetic genius of this element in Kengo Kuma’s architectural design, each exhibition space features a 1:1 re-creation of a facade detail from one of his building designs, presenting the substance of the real materials used, and details of their craftsmanship: the ceramic plates of the Yixing Tao Museum retain the traces of being shaped by hand; the aluminum screen of the Kengo Kuma and Associates Beijing office at Qianmen is made from two types of aluminum pieces that are locked, rather than welded, together; the tiles at the Folk Art Museum of the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou are suspended on four hooks between two layers of wire netting, leaving it to the viewer’s imagination to fill in the sound of raindrops on tile; the wood structure in the Starbucks at Dazaifu Tenmangū gets its stability from the interwoven lattice of wooden planks, each of which has been polished to a shine. In the installation artwork Memories of the Five Senses, viewers can examine the memories of these artworks through clips from each site, and glimpse the imaginary world of his design team.


This exhibition is also a concentrated presentation of Kengo Kuma’s calligraphy works. Kuma says he first encountered calligraphy in middle school: “A teacher at the time taught me the specific techniques and the philosophy behind calligraphy. Calligraphy is more than a hobby for me. It is a form of training and way of thinking about the relationships between materials.” Kuma links calligraphy to his architectural design. “Calligraphy is the shared result of my hands, the paper, and the ink, revealing the relationships between people and materials. These relationships are the main theme of my design thinking. I can come to understand these relationships through the practice of calligraphy. Just as an athlete trains in sports, this is my training as an architect.”


Kengo Kuma: Architecture for the Five Senses aims not only to spread architectural knowledge, but to open up new modes of thought and soothe the soul through people's interactions with the exhibition and each other. Architecture has long been a major focus of the Fosun Foundation. From the foundation's building, which has been described as the “dancing house,” to the public artworks on its beautiful terrace over the Bund, Fosun Foundation explores all artistic and creative forms capable of forming the most direct connections with people, and thus to inspire thinking and discussion of their own lives, ways of existence, and social relations.


This exhibition will be held over the summer holiday. We look forward to the opportunity to encounter and exchange with architecture professionals, students, lovers of architecture, and the general public. During the exhibition, Kengo Kuma will visit Fosun Foundation in person to take part in talks where he will share his architectural philosophy and practice that adapts to local conditions and fuses with place and surrounding environment. We will also invite academy teachers, architects, scholars and other speakers to expound on the various dimensions of architecture and urban space, architectural materials, and the symbiosis between architecture and nature in a series of discussions. A series of other public education events for participants of all ages, including architecture experience workshops, summer camps, members-only events, and volunteer-guided visits, will invite the public to set out on a journey of architecture in resonance between art and nature.


Architecture is the art form most able to influence and feed back into experience and life, and can give rise to both clothing and cuisine, opening up an entirely new outlook in art. The “Chinese Clothing Window” limited experience space showcasing the ICICLE Men’s clothing line will hold its second installment in tandem with Kengo Kuma: Architecture for the Five Senses at Shanghai Fosun Foundation. Under the slogan “Made in Earth,” ICICLE strives to bring the Eastern concept of “unity between man and nature” into the contemporary context, creating fine natural fashion. This time, the brand brings its all-season men’s fashion window installation into an artistic setting, bringing together inspirations from the traditional Chinese color palette to transform the experience space. This collaboration is a vivid presentation of the two parties’ constant explorations of the realms of art, nature, and living—expanding from the language of fashion into the nature of human culture, finding broad sensory insights from the art of architecture, and together exploring all new inspirations in lifestyles to create a sensory experience that breaks beyond formal limitations.



People design food, and food in turn designs people. Carrying on in the “reconstruction” method often employed in architectural design, in this exhibition, 21cake will present a limited edition, “reassembled” architectural cake for this exhibition, reconstructing the way the classic Napoleon pastry is eaten to present an entirely new experience of taste, using food to bring freedom to human and culinary space. By employing an entirely new way of eating, attention is brought to flavor, and to people’s lives in connection to eating, creating resonance with Kengo Kuma’s emphasis on the five senses.


For this exhibition, we would like to specially thank: our primary industry exhibition partner ICICLE, our exclusive dessert partner 21cake, our exclusive paint partner Nippon Paint, and our exhibition technical support partner akzu. We express thanks to all of these brands for their generous support for this exhibition.

2023.07.21 - 2023.10.06
Fosun Foundation (Shanghai)