In October, a new vision of downtown's sleepy RiverPlace neighborhood began drifting through City Hall. The renderings showed eight pagoda-slatted towers rising as high as 400 feet above the waterfront, bristling above cascades of trees. The naturalistic spires seemed to come straight out of both Blade Runner and Avatar, an architectural boldness foreign to our city.
The plan's architect, Kengo Kuma, is one of the most celebrated architects in Japan, the author of 2020's Tokyo Olympic Stadium—an exposed, wood-latticed bird's nest that somehow manages to appear both futuristic and serene, a booming whisper announcing Japan's national identity to the world.
But until last year, he hadn't put up a single project in the United States.
In April 2017, Kuma completed a majestic expansion of Portland's already world-renowned Japanese Garden: a green-roofed "cultural village" at once Escherian in its geometry and gentle in its harmonies, with light shimmering through wooden slats that hang like willow branches from the ceiling.
Since beginning that project, he has made our city an architectural home away from home. Last May, he redesigned chef Naoko Tamura's elegant Shizuku restaurant on Southwest Jefferson Street as an ethereal world of sunlight and undulating bamboo screens. In the Southeast suburb of Happy Valley, the Street of Dreams now contains a house unlike any other near Portland: a light-bathed structure of gently sloping roofs within a moat of patio, bending like an elbow around rolling greenery designed by the Japanese Garden's landscaper. It will be the model for a series of homes just like it.
Building by building, Kuma is helping to reimagine what architecture can be in Portland, both in scale and in elegance. We can't wait.