Rolex’s ethos of design and innovation of the highest quality extends to the buildings the company commissions all over the world. In Dallas, Japanese architect Kengo Kuma has designed an office tower that twists out of the ground.
In Dallas, Texas, the great Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, has designed a Rolex office building that sets new architectural benchmarks in the city. Kuma, who was chosen to design the centre-piece of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics – the National Stadium – has an international reputation based on his mastery of highly original connections between buildings, sites and nature.
The building is on a site in the Harwood District near Rolex’s original 1984 building – the first office block ever built in uptown Dallas. “The theme of the design is the integration of the land with the building,” Kuma explains. “Usually, office buildings are independent monuments, and the building is separate from the land around it. So I thought of starting with the landscape by connecting the building to the ground with a low Japanese castle wall, and twisted the building to show the continuous movement from terrain to building, from the bottom to the top – the dynamic form of the building.”
The structure twists as it rises, which means that it has the effect of visually unlocking the city’s street grid. Those looking out from the building – particularly at the higher levels – get unusual angled vistas across Dallas; instead of facing buildings directly opposite, the twist presents them with more open views across road intersections and the cityscape beyond. And those driving or walking past the Rolex building experience an equally unusual break in the otherwise right-angled rhythm of the streets and buildings around it.
In the construction of its own buildings, as in its watchmaking, Rolex has always embraced innovative ideas, and the Dallas tower is clearly no exception. The adventurous and environmentally sophisticated design is typical of the work by Kuma, whose first building, in 1988, was a small, irregularly formed bathhouse in Izu composed of metal, bamboo and concrete.
Since then, the way Kuma uses natural light, space and subtly modulated surfaces in his approach to buildings – “dissolution and disintegration”, as he puts it – continues to be unique. His architecture has been featured at five editions of the International Architecture Exhibition in Venice. Kuma’s design approach produces highly diverse buildings, such as the Asakusa Culture Tourism Centre in Tokyo, which resembles a stack of eight different kinds of houses; the Daiwa Ubiquitous Computing Research Building, with its exquisitely meandering veils of cedar shingles; the Plastic House in Tokyo, whose walls are made of 4 mm-thick, fibre-reinforced plastic, which resembles rice paper or bamboo; and the Suntory Museum of Art, whose vertical ceramic louvres recall historic musougoshi screens.
Historic Japanese architecture has also supplied the quite literal bedrock of the design of Rolex’s new Dallas office, which will be used as a sales and service centre. Its base is surrounded by a low rock rampart, a reference to the ishigaki walls around Japanese castles in the Edo period. In the Dallas building, the rampart is seen more as a point of connection with the city than as a defence from it. The floors of the seven-storey building ascend from its raised base at the corner of Harry Hines Boulevard and Moody Street, and rotate like a slightly twisted deck of cards.
Kuma has a philosophy of integrating nature into his buildings, encouraged by Rolex, which, as a company championing the natural world, was keen to bring nature right into the heart of the busy streets of Dallas. The projecting edges of each floor-deck are covered with plants, and there are also gardens in the open, two-storey event space at the top of the building, and around its base – a “greening” provided by third-generation landscape designer Sadafumi Uchiyama. The event space is planted with trees, and the base around the building also has small pools and waterfalls.
Also typical of Kuma’s work are the design references to historic Japanese architecture. He is particularly interested in blurring the boundaries between interiors and exteriors; he always takes great care to create in-between spaces and verandas, known as engawa, in his buildings. “Creating an in-between space is a very important tradition in Japanese homes, and its function is ambiguous. But it is also a good solution for the hot summer climate in Dallas,” he says.
Kuma’s dematerializations of form and surfaces in the Rolex building are masterly. Each of the rising floorplates is screened externally by a set of three brise-soleil. “We wanted to give an impression of lightness, so there is thin aluminium for the brise-soleil, etched like wood grain on the underside. The edges are very precise – a sharp edge that’s as thin as possible, because edges are an important part of our design. Natural sunlight in Dallas is very strong, so we control that with 400 mm deep brise-soleil. The green balconies also control the reflection of sunlight into the building.”
Internally, there is a striking use of wood in what must be some of the most unusual office building interiors in Dallas. The walls and ceiling of the boardroom, for example, are lined with projecting wooden boards; the staff lounge ceiling has overlapping boards; and the walls of the ground floor reception area – which contains artefacts from Japanese warriors of the Edo period – are composed of gapped boards. “These gaps are to increase the sense of lightness,” says Kuma. “And that was very important because we wanted to avoid a feeling that was too solid.” And so, the delicate layered design of the Rolex building’s exterior has been repeated, in a different way, inside the building. Every part of it embodies Kuma’s uniquely sensual articulations of space, form, surface and nature.