Rethinking public space, architectural models, and … cats! Kengo Kuma Exhibition at the MOMAT!

Kengo Kuma is a Japanese architect known worldwide for his beautifully designed architecture works that blend in with the surrounding environment and local culture. The Kengo Kuma exhibition, which is being held at the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo (MOMAT), introduces 68 of his projects with a focus on those of a highly public nature. Learn more about his work through architectural models, mockups (part models), photographs, and videos!

“Xiangcheng Yangcheng Lake Tourist Transportation Center” (2018)

This special exhibition “Kuma Kengo: Five Purr-fect Points for a New Public Space” is the first large-scale exhibition of an architect at the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo. At the large exhibition space, all texts introducing sections of the exhibition and individual works were written by Kuma himself.

“Chokkura Plaza” 2006; Many exhibits are displayed using an architectural model, photographs, and explanations of the works.

For this exhibition, only architecture with a “highly public nature” showing a reconstruction of public spaces where many people come together was selected.

“Yusuhara Wooden Bridge Museum” (2010) with its impressive single pillar.

There is no need to say that large-scale buildings such as city halls and museums are public facilities, but the exhibition also introduces small-scale architecture such as store designs. This allows the visitor to enjoy various architectures from large to small while rethinking the meaning of “public space”.

An installation with study models of the “Japan National Stadium” (2019) where the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games will be held. Mockups and even small models of the wood and sofas used in the design of the stadium are shown. Since only and a handful of people have seen the insides of the new stadium, this is your chance to “visit” it and get a glimpse of its design details!
An architectural model of the “V&A Dundee”, which opened in Scotland in 2018. Behind the model you see a time-lapse video taken by The McGloughlin Brothers.
The “V&A Dundee” was selected by TIME magazine as one of the “world’s greatest places to visit in 2019.” Since right now, we can’t really travel freely around the world, these architectural models make you feel like going on a trip. How nice it must be to actually be able to visit these beautiful constructions one day!

What are Kengo Kuma’s five principles for a new public space?

Inside the exhibition

The architecture selected for the exhibition is not shown in chronological order but is classified and introduced through “five principles” that play an important part in Kuma’s works. These “five principles” are “hole,” “particles,” “oblique,” “softness,” and “time”.

The “Floating Tea House” (2007) which is on display at the entrance hall was classified as “soft”. It uses a helium gas balloon to keep the sheet covering in place and can be therefore fully deflated and compactly stored. It was made by Kengo Kuma for an event held at the Japanese Embassy in Washington.
“Nagaoka City Hall Aore” (2012)

For example, “Nagaoka City Hall Aore” belongs to the category “hole”. The city hall, an office building, a municipal assembly building, and an arena building are built around a roofed central courtyard open to the sides. It was inspired by Japanese “nakadoma” (earthen-floored interiors) which were semi-outdoor workspaces for farmers. Being always open, the “nakadoma” style courtyard was created to encourage interaction and communication between people.

Nakadoma courtyard of “Nagaoka City Hall Aore”

A nice extra: The design of the exhibition space change according to each of the “5 principles”. So look closely at how the exhibition slowly changes. It’s one of the highlights!

The “oblique” exhibition area is designed “diagonal”.
The exhibition area focusing on Kuma’s principle ​​”time” was particularly impressive. I felt that the concept of “time”, which is so difficult to grasp, was well visualized. It somehow made sense. The model in the foreground is “Beijing Qianmen” (2016)

Why a cat’s point of view is indispensable in the coming era

The title visual of the exhibition uses a “cat” emoji.

This special exhibition is based on Kuma’s idea that in this age of time, human-scale architecture gets more and more important and therefore we should not look at the city or buildings from above, but from below – from a cat’s point of view.

The signs also have a cat design. Super cute!

If you look closely, you can find cats everywhere in the exhibition room. Where? Well, look at the architectural models!

So many cats! “Xiangcheng Yangcheng Lake Tourist Transportation Center” (2018), “Nakagawa-machi Bato Hiroshige Museum of Art” (2000), “Iiyama Cultural Hall “Nachura” (2015), “Besançon Art Center and Cité de la Musique” (2013)

The second exhibition hall, which you can enter free of charge, is also full of cats! The exhibition here is all about an interesting research project named “A Plan for Tokyo, 2020: Five Purr-fect Points for Feline Architecture,” which examines life in the city from the perspective of cats.

Explore the city from a cat’s perspective! Kuma KengoxTakram “A Plan for Tokyo, 2020: Five Purr-fect Points for Feline Architecture” (2020)
©Kengo Kuma and Associates ©Takram

In our time with a global pandemic and the novel coronavirus, gatherings with a large number of people aren’t possible. So how does this difficult time change the way how we feel about space design of not only the crowded buildings but also the public spaces around us? This will be an even more important issue in the future, and now might be the time to reconsider these topics. The Kengo Kuma special exhibition was very well curated and thanks to that, it made me think about these kinds of topics. A big recommendation!

Kuma Kengo: Five Purr-fect Points for a New Public Space (Special Website)
Date: June 18th (Friday) -September 26th (Sunday), 2021

*Tickets can be purchased on-site at the ticket counters, subject to their availability. Please consider making an online reservation and purchasing your ticket online in advance.

Other ongoing exhibitions:

MOMAT Collection Special:
Masterpieces of Japanese Art from the End of the 19th Century to the Present
Date: June 1st (Tuesday) -September 26th (Sunday), 2021

The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo (MOMAT)
3-1 Kitanomaru-koen, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
Google Maps:
Nearest stations: Takebashi Station, Kudanshita Station, Jimbocho Station