As is usually (but not always) custom, a single architect has been honored in the latest edition of TIME magazine’s TIME 100 list, a hotly anticipated annual round-up of the 100 most influential people for that given year. This year’s honor belongs to Kengo Kuma, the celebrated Tokyo-based architect and educator whose Japan National Stadium served as the timber-centric centerpiece of the 2020 Summer Olympics and 2020 Summer Paralympics held this year in Tokyo. Most recently, AN profiled Kuma’s H.C. Andersen’s House, an immersive museum dedicated to the beloved Scandinavian fairy tale scribe in Odense, Denmark.
Kuma was named as one of this year’s most influential Innovators, which is one of six 2021 TIME 100 categories alongside Icons, Pioneers, Titans, Artists, and Leaders. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Billie Eilish, Simon Biles, Kate Winslet, and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala led each of those categories, respectively. Jensen Huang, president and CEO of Silicon Valley AI and GPU behemoth Nvidia topped the Innovators category, which also included, among others, Elon Musk, virologist Barney Graham, General Motors chair and CEO Mary Barra, and MiMi Aung, an engineer and project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
As Kenjiro Hosaka, director of the Shiga Museum of Art and curator of Kuma Kengo: Five Purr-fect Points for a New Public Space at the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, wrote in his official TIME 100 mini-profile of Kuma:
“Kengo Kuma champions an ideal of ‘losing architecture’—intricate buildings that disappear into their environs—although it’s hard to miss the new National Stadium in Japan when walking through the heart of Tokyo. His stylistic fingerprints can be seen throughout the elaborate project, designed by Kengo Kuma and Associates in collaboration with two other firms for this year’s Olympic Games. Greenery dots the facade of the oval-shaped structure, the centerpiece of this year’s Games, allowing a series of wooden eaves—a favored material for Kuma, procured from prefectures across Japan—to better blend in with the surrounding garden. The eaves slant upward to gently welcome visitors inside, where tens of thousands of forest-toned seats await. Such public projects—which require architects to accept certain conditions and demands, and limit their freedom of expression—can nonetheless gain natural sympathy and create a welcome new space for communities.”
While Kuma is the sole architect to be named one of TIME’s 100 most influential people in 2021, he isn’t technically the only architect whose name appears on this year’s coveted list. Past honoree Adjaye penned the short profile of 2021 TIME 100-ers economist Felwine Sarr and art historian Bénédicte Savoy, who are the authors of the Emmanuel Macron-commissioned report, The Restitution of African Cultural Heritage. Toward a New Relational Ethics. First published in 2018, the report makes the case for the decolonization of Western museum collections.
“As an architect, much of my work is focused on creating these spaces—New Institutions that can decenter the West and return to knowledge systems that were thriving before the colonial project,” wrote Adjaye in his testament to the duo, who are honored in the Pioneers category. “Felwine and Bénédicte created a theoretical basis for that work, a radical call for understanding how restitution can become a tool for restoring lost memories, and from that new constructs can emerge and become new teaching tools within society.”