Friday, September 03, 2021

The New Rolex Building in Dallas


"I don't use a watch at the moment," Kengo Kuma told me during an interview. Yet, his creation has been one of the most significant work for Rolex in recent years. Few people know that for more than six decades, Rolex has asked that its buildings worldwide are to be designed by renowned architects who have made their mark on history. 

These architects include Michael Graves (Lititz Watch Technicum, Pennsylvania), Fumihiko Maki (Rolex Tokyo building) and SANAA principals Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa (the Rolex Learning Center for EPFL in Lausanne). In a previous article I mentioned the architecture of the future Rolex USA headquarters on Fifth Ave in New York which is commissioned to Sir David Chipperfield. 

For Dallas, Rolex commissioned the Japanese architect Kengo Kuma to design its newest building, a seven-story office tower that houses Rolex’s sales and service center, replacing the original Rolex Building opened in 1984.

Mr. Kuma has an international reputation based on his mastery of highly original connections between buildings, sites and nature. He was chosen to design the center-piece of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the National Stadium. 

The Rolex Building in Dallas joins the list of "twisted sister" buildings, which include the MAD skyscraper in Canada and the SOM’s helical tower in Dubai. With a series of stacked floor plates that stagger and give the appearance of a twisting tower, the building allows for more outdoor space on each floor, lending to a calm atmosphere, natural beauty, and progressive style. 

"Our idea was to create a place of nature at the heart of the great city of Dallas," Mr. Kuma told me. "The most difficult issue was how to solve the gap of the site. And traffic played a part in that. It’s a very noisy street, so our solution was to use a castle wall. The castle wall is part of the earth; it is part of the natural land, which creates a very different effect from a vertical concrete wall." 

The Rolex building won the “Best Office Project in the World” by Engineering News-Record magazine and was featured in a 50-minute documentary by NHK World News. The 136,860-square-foot building has a spiral shape that appears to disappear as it reaches for the sky. The tower is covered with 16-inch-deep horizontal louvers to protect it from the strong sunlight in Dallas, and the louvers were provided with a wood texture in order to make it feel warm and highlight the dynamic twists. 

Mr Kuma, who was the recipient of the Architectural Institute of Japan Award, told me he hopes people can enjoy the sense of nature with the building. He made sure to incorporate nature into each floor, including a rooftop garden, to inspire other organic-urban developments around the city. 

For Dallas, this sets a whole new standard of environmental qualities. The way Mr. 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. 

"We create a mockup for every project so I can feel the materiality," Mr. Kuma said. "I don’t trust drawings. Drawings are just lines, but mockups have material. They allow us to check effective natural light and shadow. Also, I often go to the construction site. In the 1980s, many star architects would send drawings to Japan without visiting because clients just wanted a brand, not architecture. And I saw how that produced buildings without any heart, so I try to visit the site as much as possible and communicate with locals directly." 

And though he is not wearing a timepiece at the moment, Mr. Kuma has a lot of respect for the Swiss watchmaker. "I've always admired Rolex," he finally told me. "Particularly because it is perfectly matching the image of Switzerland."