Will Canberra be wowed by the new sea cucumber?

Will Canberra be wowed by the new sea cucumber?

It's a very long way from the vast Olympic Stadium in Tokyo to a new small-scale sculpture on Aspen Island in Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra. They seem very different.

The huge building in the capital of Japan will be the centre-piece of one of the world's truly global events. It dominates its surroundings.

The other in the capital of Australia is small and intimate - a sculpture of a gentle sea creature on the banks of Lake Burley Griffin.

Kengo Kuma at the unveiling of his installation entitled "Namako" on Aspen Island in Lake Burley Griffin.

Kengo Kuma at the unveiling of his installation entitled "Namako" on Aspen Island in Lake Burley Griffin.Credit:Steve Evans.

But there are resonances. Both are designed by the same star architect, and both constructions have the same soft, natural look he sees as the spirit of our times.


The designer of both, Kengo Kuma, is sought out for big money, big prestige projects all over the world.

He designed the 80,000-seat Tokyo stadium with foliage hanging from the tiers of the huge construction. He's done museums and art centres in Europe and funky corporate headquarters in Beijing.

And now a sculpture modelled on a sea-cucumber tucked away on the island in the middle of Canberra.

He viewed it for the first time at the site on Sunday afternoon and pronounced himself pleased.

Talking to Fairfax Media, he said he wanted to create something soft, in tune with the natural surroundings, rather than a hard object out of steel and concrete. Just as with his other, bigger projects, he wants his Australian work to resonate with nature.

The installation is called "Namako", the Japanese for sea cucumber, a slug-like creature that dwells on the sea-bed and which is a delicacy in many parts of the world (though not Australia).

The organisers of Design Canberra, the festival that runs for the next three weeks, invited the Japanese architect to participate and he accepted by designing the "ephemeral" structure in the Australian capital.

He, along with students from the universities of Tokyo and Canberra, created the sculpture out of slats of wood and acryl all woven together with zip-ties. It's three metres high and 12 metres long and it winds around like a mysterious white slug.

The organisers of the Canberra festival were delighted with the collaboration. By going for a big-name architect, they feel they've given the festival an increased status that will enable them to pull in big names more easily in the future - and pull in the crowds in this year's event, the fifth of its kind.


“Design Canberra is honoured to work with one of the world’s leading architects to design the inaugural ephemeral architecture project", the festival's artistic director, Rachael Coghlan, said.

"The project promotes experimental and authentic design, fostering international collaboration and design education."

A sign near the work on Aspen Island says that it likes to be touched but not climbed on, and that's what visitors on Sunday were doing, feeling the thing's texture. As the architect inspected his work, kids were fascinated, oohing and ahing as they look into its innards.

The work will be on Aspen Island during the festival, which lasts until November 25.

After that, it will be dismantled and nobody quite knows what will then happen, though the organisers said that if anybody wanted to buy it, they would be open to offers.

Steve Evans is a reporter for The Canberra Times.

Most Viewed in Entertainment