Intimate Conversation with Kengo Kuma


Harwood International had the honor of hosting Kengo Kuma, his design partner Balazs Bognar, and HDF architects Jeff Smith and Steve Chandler for an intimate panel discussion with moderator Michael Friebele, architect with CallisonRTKL.

The evening began with a tour of the building. Kuma-san had not visited the building prior to its completion, so it was his first time to see the twisty tower in all its detail. It was his first time to see the rooms, floors, and terraces that he designed and sketched in collaboration with the HDF team. He paused throughout the tour to inspect the details of the building, feel the materials used, and take in seeing his vision brought to life.

From there, the evening continued with a happy hour in the Mercat Bistro pergola. Fellow architects and fans had the opportunity to speak to Kuma-san directly – some even bringing copies of his book, “Architecture for Defeat” for him to sign.

Michael Friebele then guided a conversation with the four visionaries on the panel to dive deeper into the inspiration for the building, its challenges, and what makes the building so unique.

A key feature in the building is the open glass terrace on the top level of the building. The space is private and is only for Rolex associates. Bognar describes the space as an escape for those working in the building.

The space added a very human approach to the ways we live our lives. It’s basic things such as natural light and so forth. But you can imagine these people probably want to take a break so we gave them their own place to hang out. But why not have it be outdoors? It’s basically a continuity of the nature we find on the ground lifted up a little bit up and have them experienced that as their own as well.

Kuma-san adds that, “in the 20th century, the main goal is to expand and extend the footprint as much as we can, to invade nature. So instead we tried to bring nature into the building.”

And it was no different for the design of the Harwood Rolex building. Its shifting and ascending square structure allow room on every level for tranquil gardens to blossom. And with its unique asymmetrical structure, the building transforms from different angles, giving you different views and perspectives depending on where you see it from. But it was also important that the building feel a part of its surroundings. For him, community is another huge aspect of design and in creating a hub of importance and community around a space.

“The castle wall is a wall, but at the same time it is a part of earth, part of the land. Normally a vertical wall is just architecture, it is not belonging to earth. A traditional castle wall in Japan is part of natural land and so it is very different than the effects of just a vertical concrete wall. Vertical concrete walls reject people but a natural stone castle wall is welcoming people, But it is still protecting the building. We used that wisdom for the building.”

The night’s intimate panel spread many topics, but chief among them was Kuma-san’s awe at what Dallas had become. “My first visit to Dallas was in 1985, when I was studying at Columbia. Then my second visit to Dallas was totally different, it looked different. People started to walk on the street and there were many shadows. Shadows were almost a theme of the space. I thought, why in 30 years was there such a big change that happened in Dallas? How to create a new symbol for Dallas became a theme of our project. I think this is a very important project for American cities, because American cities used to be cities only used for cars but how can we change American cities. European streets are very intimate, very active. The Japanese culture is also very sustainable and intimate. How can we bring that kind of culture to American cities. We tried to show that kind of philosophy in that building.”

A shared vision for a better, more walkability city, brought Kengo Kuma and Harwood International together. The collaboration brought a new iconic building to Dallas and was another step to a more beautiful city.

Next year, athletes and spectators from all over the globe will experience Kengo Kuma’s iconic work at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic stadium.