The Spirit of Nature architecture award is conferred by the Wood in Culture Association of Finland. This year's was presented last week in Lahti, southern Finland, by prime minister Paavo Lipponen.
Kuma is, by his own admission, a reactionary, influenced by the traditional Japanese house he was born in – but he is anything but a crude traditionalist in the Western sense. His latest work, a bamboo house outside Beijing in China, consists of a series of light-filled spaces that flow into each other.
It brings to mind classic Japanese houses of timber and rice paper panels, as well as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's modernist German Pavilion for the Barcelona exhibition of 1929, built in marble and glass.
"My approach is to relate to the modern movement and combine this with traditional Japanese carpentry to create a new culture and design," he says. "I like the warmth, sensuality and smell of natural wood."
The bamboo house exploits both the natural qualities and the translucency of this timber. The visible walls and ceilings are flat planes of bamboo poles with a rich, honey-coloured texture. The bamboo walls are in fact screens that mask the real external walls of clear frameless glazing, and the spacing of the poles determines the transparency of the walls.
Kuma was selected for the award by an international jury of five architectural experts. "Many of Kuma's works are characterised by a refined use of wood and a profound understanding of its nature as a building material," said the jury chairman, professor Gunnel Adlercreutz of Helsinki.
"He has combined new and traditional elements to produce architecture that is completely modern, while sensitively adapting to surroundings, in a dialogue that adds value to the new and to the existing."
Architect Kengo Kuma & Associates Structural and services engineer N Nakata & Associates Contractor Beijing Third Dwelling Architectural Engineering Company