Architectural onomatopoeias by Kengo Kuma exhibited in Venice

Yesterday, 14 May 2023, a new retrospective entitled “Kengo Kuma – Onomatopoeia architecture” was inaugurated at Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti in Venice. The exhibition was edited by Chizuko Kawarada, studio partner of Kengo Kuma & Associates, and Roberta Perazzini Calarota, president of ACP Art Capital Partners – Palazzo Franchetti. For the first time, the work of the Japanese architect is shown following a unique theme, the onomatopoeic architecture, which is Kuma’s capacity to narrate his projects through the use of onomatopoeic words, in a simple and non-technical way.

The work by Kengo Kuma entitled “Albero della barca”, exhibited at Palazzo Franchetti.
Courtesy ACP – Palazzo Franchetti

Starting from thirteen Japanese words, the architect gives shape to a physical sensation, expressed in his idea of sustainable architecture. Through the use of simple materials like wood, paper and metal, Kuma uses recycled resources typical of the Nipponese tradition in a contemporary tone. Another important aspect of his works is the dialogue between person and object, not influenced by logical language, but rather by primordial type of sounds. That explains the use of onomatopoeias, where matter and body speak to each other in a visceral way, creating a bridge between humans and nature using sight, sense of smell and touch. 

The exhibition also represents a homage to Venice, “the most onomatopoeic city there could be”, as Kuma said. Entering the palace from the garden facing Canal Grande, where a site-specific work has been placed, the visitor overlooks an architectural promenade, where the space is scanned by the thirteen onomatopoeias. Panels and audiovisual devices explain every word.

Kengo Kuma
Courtesy Kengo Kuma & Associates

Launched in conjunction with the 18th International Architecture Exhibition at the Biennale of Venice and opened until 26 November, the exhibition gives an innovative gaze at the lagoon city, where architecture connects the deeply-rooted cultural heritage with global modernity.