Starbucks recently commissioned starchitect Kengo Kuma to design an outpost in Dazaifu, a small city in Japan’s Fukuoka Prefecture, that, with walls covered in a matrix of wood planks, is a striking departure from the company’s typical uninspired (if familiarly friendly) interiors filled with tacky pendant lighting and faux-wood finishes.
And that’s the point. Starbucks shares a history with a host of other American companies that have plunked its cookie-cutter stores into countries around the world. But the coffee empire is now becoming more sensitive to cultural differences—and designing its branches to reflect regional tastes. Earlier this year, it opened an experimental shop in Amsterdam, a showcase of slow-brew coffee, local craftsmanship, and eco-friendly furnishings. And according to The New York Times, Starbucks is investing millions in making over hundreds of its stores in France to appeal to coffee aficionados who favor the personalized atmosphere of cafés.
Kuma’s interior for the Starbucks in Dazaifu is a pearl in a growing strand of customized spaces—one that is an outgrowth of the architect’s fondness for natural materials. More than 2,000 wooden batons line the 2,260-square-foot shop, creating a loosely woven lattice that extends beyond the storefront’s edge. A few signs, nestled into the wooden structure, are the only outward indicators of the brand.
According to Kengo Kuma and Associates, the design is meant to blend with the other buildings along the road to Dazaifu Tenmangu, Fukuoka’s most famous shrine, dedicated to the god of learning. “Along the main path to the shrine, there are traditional Japanese buildings in one or two stories,” the firm’s press release states. “The project aimed to make a structure that harmonizes with such townscape, using a unique system of weaving thin woods.” And yet with such a strong sculptural focal point, one can hardly imagine it blending in.