Architecture

Gallery: The proud and playful architecture of Japan's Kengo Kuma

The Coeda House in Shizuoka, Japan, made from randomly stacked 8-cm-square cedar boards. By Kengo Kuma & Associates
The Coeda House in Shizuoka, Japan, made from randomly stacked 8-cm-square cedar boards. By Kengo Kuma & Associates
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Keio Takaosanguchi Station in west Tokyo, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
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Keio Takaosanguchi Station in west Tokyo, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
Inside the renovated Keio Takaosanguchi Station in west Tokyo, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
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Inside the renovated Keio Takaosanguchi Station in west Tokyo, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
The renovated Keio Takaosanguchi Station in west Tokyo, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
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The renovated Keio Takaosanguchi Station in west Tokyo, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
The Garden Terrace Nagasaki Royal Terrace building, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
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The Garden Terrace Nagasaki Royal Terrace building, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
inside the Garden Terrace Nagasaki Royal Terrace building in Nagasaki, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
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inside the Garden Terrace Nagasaki Royal Terrace building in Nagasaki, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
The Garden Terrace Nagasaki Royal Terrace building in Nagasaki, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
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The Garden Terrace Nagasaki Royal Terrace building in Nagasaki, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
inside the Sunny Hills cake shop in Omotesando, Tokyo, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
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inside the Sunny Hills cake shop in Omotesando, Tokyo, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
The Sunny Hills cake shop in Omotesando, Tokyo, by Kengo Kuma & Associates, features traditional joint system in Japan called "Jigoku Gumi" 
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The Sunny Hills cake shop in Omotesando, Tokyo, by Kengo Kuma & Associates, features traditional joint system in Japan called "Jigoku Gumi" 
The Sunny Hills cake shop in Omotesando, Tokyo, by Kengo Kuma & Associates, features traditional joint system in Japan called "Jigoku Gumi"
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The Sunny Hills cake shop in Omotesando, Tokyo, by Kengo Kuma & Associates, features traditional joint system in Japan called "Jigoku Gumi"
Natural materials form the facade of the Daiwa Ubiquitous Computing Research Building in Tokyo, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
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Natural materials form the facade of the Daiwa Ubiquitous Computing Research Building in Tokyo, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
The undulating facade of the Daiwa Ubiquitous Computing Research Building in Tokyo, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
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The undulating facade of the Daiwa Ubiquitous Computing Research Building in Tokyo, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
The undulating facade of the Daiwa Ubiquitous Computing Research Building in Tokyo, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
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The undulating facade of the Daiwa Ubiquitous Computing Research Building in Tokyo, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
The Daiwa Ubiquitous Computing Research Building in Tokyo, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
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The Daiwa Ubiquitous Computing Research Building in Tokyo, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
Detail on the Yusuhara Wooden Bridge Museum, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
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Detail on the Yusuhara Wooden Bridge Museum, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
Yusuhara Wooden Bridge Museum, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
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Yusuhara Wooden Bridge Museum, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
The Yusuhara Wooden Bridge Museum, uses a unique cantilever bridge design. By Kengo Kuma & Associates
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The Yusuhara Wooden Bridge Museum, uses a unique cantilever bridge design. By Kengo Kuma & Associates
Yusuhara Wooden Bridge Museum, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
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Yusuhara Wooden Bridge Museum, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
The Towada City Plaza in Aomori, Japan. By Kengo Kuma & Associates
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The Towada City Plaza in Aomori, Japan. By Kengo Kuma & Associates
The Towada City Plaza in Aomori, Japan. By Kengo Kuma & Associates
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The Towada City Plaza in Aomori, Japan. By Kengo Kuma & Associates
Inside the Towada City Plaza in Aomori, Japan. By Kengo Kuma & Associates
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Inside the Towada City Plaza in Aomori, Japan. By Kengo Kuma & Associates
Inside the Towada City Plaza in Aomori, Japan. By Kengo Kuma & Associates
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Inside the Towada City Plaza in Aomori, Japan. By Kengo Kuma & Associates
The GC Prostho Museum Research Center, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
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The GC Prostho Museum Research Center, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
Construction of the GC Prostho Museum Research Center, by Kengo Kuma & Associates, is based on a traditional wooden toy from the Hida Takayama region of Japan
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Construction of the GC Prostho Museum Research Center, by Kengo Kuma & Associates, is based on a traditional wooden toy from the Hida Takayama region of Japan
The GC Prostho Museum Research Center, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
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The GC Prostho Museum Research Center, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
Construction of the GC Prostho Museum Research Center, by Kengo Kuma & Associates, is based on a traditional wooden toy from the Hida Takayama region of Japan
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Construction of the GC Prostho Museum Research Center, by Kengo Kuma & Associates, is based on a traditional wooden toy from the Hida Takayama region of Japan
The Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center in Tokyo, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
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The Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center in Tokyo, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
The Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center in Tokyo, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
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The Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center in Tokyo, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
The Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center in Tokyo, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
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The Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center in Tokyo, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
Café Kureon in Toyama-shi, Toyama, Japan. By Kengo Kuma & Associates
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Café Kureon in Toyama-shi, Toyama, Japan. By Kengo Kuma & Associates
Café Kureon in Toyama-shi, Toyama, Japan. By Kengo Kuma & Associates
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Café Kureon in Toyama-shi, Toyama, Japan. By Kengo Kuma & Associates
Inside Café Kureon in Toyama-shi, Toyama, Japan, which is made to resemble a forest. By Kengo Kuma & Associates
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Inside Café Kureon in Toyama-shi, Toyama, Japan, which is made to resemble a forest. By Kengo Kuma & Associates
A Starbucks Coffee shop in the Tokyo suburb of Omotesando. By Kengo Kuma & Associates
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A Starbucks Coffee shop in the Tokyo suburb of Omotesando. By Kengo Kuma & Associates
The interior of this Starbucks Coffee shop in the Tokyo suburb of Omotesando is made to create an "organic space that flows like light and wind."  By Kengo Kuma & Associates
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The interior of this Starbucks Coffee shop in the Tokyo suburb of Omotesando is made to create an "organic space that flows like light and wind."  By Kengo Kuma & Associates
A Starbucks Coffee shop in the Tokyo suburb of Omotesando. By Kengo Kuma & Associates
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A Starbucks Coffee shop in the Tokyo suburb of Omotesando. By Kengo Kuma & Associates
The Glass/Wood House in New Canaan, Connecticut USA. By Kengo Kuma & Associates
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The Glass/Wood House in New Canaan, Connecticut USA. By Kengo Kuma & Associates
The Glass/Wood House in New Canaan, Connecticut USA. By Kengo Kuma & Associates
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The Glass/Wood House in New Canaan, Connecticut USA. By Kengo Kuma & Associates
Shipyard 1862, by Kengo Kuma & Associates, is a restored brick shipyard that now serves as a complex with retail spaces and a theater 
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Shipyard 1862, by Kengo Kuma & Associates, is a restored brick shipyard that now serves as a complex with retail spaces and a theater 
Shipyard 1862, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
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Shipyard 1862, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
Shipyard 1862, by Kengo Kuma & Associates, is a restored brick shipyard that now serves as a complex with retail spaces and a theater 
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Shipyard 1862, by Kengo Kuma & Associates, is a restored brick shipyard that now serves as a complex with retail spaces and a theater 
The Therme Vals project in Switzerland, by Kengo Kuma & Associates, is a set of apartments renovated to house hotel staff, with the designers aiming to create space filled with "warmth and intimacy"
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The Therme Vals project in Switzerland, by Kengo Kuma & Associates, is a set of apartments renovated to house hotel staff, with the designers aiming to create space filled with "warmth and intimacy"
The Therme Vals project in Switzerland, by Kengo Kuma & Associates, is a set of apartments renovated to house hotel staff, with the designers aiming to create space filled with "warmth and intimacy"
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The Therme Vals project in Switzerland, by Kengo Kuma & Associates, is a set of apartments renovated to house hotel staff, with the designers aiming to create space filled with "warmth and intimacy"
interior of the Cultural village in Portland's Japanese Garden, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
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interior of the Cultural village in Portland's Japanese Garden, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
interior of the Cultural village in Portland's Japanese Garden, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
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interior of the Cultural village in Portland's Japanese Garden, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
Cultural village in Portland's Japanese Garden, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
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Cultural village in Portland's Japanese Garden, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
Inside the Japan House in São Paulo, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
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Inside the Japan House in São Paulo, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
Exterior of the Japan House in São Paulo, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
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Exterior of the Japan House in São Paulo, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
Exterior of the Japan House in São Paulo, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
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Exterior of the Japan House in São Paulo, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
The Coeda House in Shizuoka, Japan, made from randomly stacked 8-cm-square cedar boards. By Kengo Kuma & Associates
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The Coeda House in Shizuoka, Japan, made from randomly stacked 8-cm-square cedar boards. By Kengo Kuma & Associates
The Coeda House in Shizuoka, Japan, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
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The Coeda House in Shizuoka, Japan, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
The Coeda House in Shizuoka, Japan, made from randomly stacked 8-cm-square cedar boards. By Kengo Kuma & Associates
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The Coeda House in Shizuoka, Japan, made from randomly stacked 8-cm-square cedar boards. By Kengo Kuma & Associates
Yugawara Station Square in Kanagawa, Japan. By Kengo Kuma & Associates
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Yugawara Station Square in Kanagawa, Japan. By Kengo Kuma & Associates
Yugawara Station Square in Kanagawa, Japan. By Kengo Kuma & Associates
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Yugawara Station Square in Kanagawa, Japan. By Kengo Kuma & Associates
Mont-Blanc Base Camp in Les Houches, France. By Kengo Kuma & Associates
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Mont-Blanc Base Camp in Les Houches, France. By Kengo Kuma & Associates
Mont-Blanc Base Camp in Les Houches, France, by Kengo Kuma & Associates. The building serves as a headquarters for climbing and mountaineering gear maker Blue Ice
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Mont-Blanc Base Camp in Les Houches, France, by Kengo Kuma & Associates. The building serves as a headquarters for climbing and mountaineering gear maker Blue Ice
Mont-Blanc Base Camp in Les Houches, France. By Kengo Kuma & Associates
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Mont-Blanc Base Camp in Les Houches, France. By Kengo Kuma & Associates
Inside the Aitoku Kindergarten in Saitama, Japan. By Kengo Kuma & Associates
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Inside the Aitoku Kindergarten in Saitama, Japan. By Kengo Kuma & Associates
Exterior detail on the Aitoku Kindergarten in Saitama, Japan. By Kengo Kuma & Associates
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Exterior detail on the Aitoku Kindergarten in Saitama, Japan. By Kengo Kuma & Associates
The Aitoku Kindergarten in Saitama, Japan. By Kengo Kuma & Associates
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The Aitoku Kindergarten in Saitama, Japan. By Kengo Kuma & Associates
Headquarters of Louis Vuitton Japan, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
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Headquarters of Louis Vuitton Japan, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
Under construction now, the National Stadium for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics will seat 68,000 spectators
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Under construction now, the National Stadium for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics will seat 68,000 spectators
Under construction now, the National Stadium by Kengo Kuma & Associates
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Under construction now, the National Stadium by Kengo Kuma & Associates
Under construction now, the National Stadium for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics will seat 68,000 spectators
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Under construction now, the National Stadium for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics will seat 68,000 spectators
Under construction now, the National Stadium by Kengo Kuma & Associates
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Under construction now, the National Stadium by Kengo Kuma & Associates
Kengo Kuma delivers a lecture at the Strelka Institute for Architecture, Media and Design in Moscow in 2014
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Kengo Kuma delivers a lecture at the Strelka Institute for Architecture, Media and Design in Moscow in 2014
Tokyo's Yoyogi Gymnasium inspired Kengo Kuma to pursue a career in architecture at a young age
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Tokyo's Yoyogi Gymnasium inspired Kengo Kuma to pursue a career in architecture at a young age

Over the span of three decades, Japan's Kengo Kuma has risen to prominence through a thoughtful approach to traditionally-infused contemporary architecture. It's a career that was first inspired by an iconic Olympic stadium and has now come full circle in a way, with Kuma designing a new National Stadium for the forthcoming 2020 Olympic games in Tokyo. Here we take a look over the famed architect's most magnificent creations, and put a few questions to the man himself about his influences over the journey.

"When I was 10 years old, I was taken by my family to see some of the 1964 Olympic-related facilities in Tokyo," Kuma tells New Atlas. "I was particularly struck by the beauty and dynamism of the Yoyogi Gymnasium designed by Kenzo Tange. I had always been interested in architecture since childhood, but that was the time I became aware of architect as a profession for myself."

Tokyo's Yoyogi Gymnasium inspired Kengo Kuma to pursue a career in architecture at a young age
Tokyo's Yoyogi Gymnasium inspired Kengo Kuma to pursue a career in architecture at a young age

This awareness led Kuma to study architecture at the University of Tokyo, onto Columbia University and then eventually to start Kengo Kuma & Associates in 1990. These days Kuma balances life as a professor at the University of Tokyo's Graduate School of Architecture with his work as the head of his firm, which now has offices in both Tokyo and Paris.

His firm's portfolio is incredibly diverse and reaches far beyond Kuma's native Japan, with cultural centers crafted in Brazil and quaint villages dreamt up for Japanese Gardens in Portland, USA. All kinds of materials can be found in Kuma's works, but one used to particularly striking effect is wood, something he says has experienced both a hot-and-cold reception in Japan over the years.

"Japanese cities with wood had suffered a lot and been destroyed many times by natural disasters and air bombing during the war, so there was a time that people avoided using wood in big cities," he explains. "Wood was still used for ordinary houses, but the quality was not necessarily high. Now the situation is changing because of advanced technology that can be applied to natural materials."

The Daiwa Ubiquitous Computing Research Building in Tokyo, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
The Daiwa Ubiquitous Computing Research Building in Tokyo, by Kengo Kuma & Associates

These technologies are rendering wood more durable and therefore more versatile. In the world of Kengo Kuma, this means using it to form an incredible undulating facade for the Daiwa Ubiquitous Computing Research Building pictured above, or the sprawling support system for the cantilevered Yusuhara Wooden Bridge Museum below. The new National Stadium for Tokyo will feature a wooden lattice around its circumference, with terraces and openings full of plants and trees.

Yusuhara Wooden Bridge Museum, by Kengo Kuma & Associates
Yusuhara Wooden Bridge Museum, by Kengo Kuma & Associates

"The recent advancement of technology has influenced not only me but also the design industry as a whole," Kuma tells us. "Material engineering and science enabled us to apply such things as fire-resistant wood and carbon fiber. People in architecture must proceed with the development of technology."

Natural materials are the ideal vehicle for Kuma to pursue two of his primary design principles, the first being a dedication to structures that are in harmony with their environment. He surely wouldn't be alone among his contemporaries, but when asked which figure has influenced his career most profoundly, he points to the man whose whole ideology gave rise to what is known as "organic architecture."

"Frank Lloyd Wright, his idea on the relationship between nature and architecture influenced my approach for design," Kuma says.

The other driving force behind Kuma's creations is a keenness to reinterpret traditional Japanese construction techniques for the modern world. The GC Prostho Museum Research Center is perhaps the most impressive example of this. Built entirely without glue, the building is made up of a stack of wooden blocks based on a traditional wooden toy called Cidori from Japan's Hida Takayama region.

Construction of the GC Prostho Museum Research Center, by Kengo Kuma & Associates, is based on a traditional wooden toy from the Hida Takayama region of Japan
Construction of the GC Prostho Museum Research Center, by Kengo Kuma & Associates, is based on a traditional wooden toy from the Hida Takayama region of Japan

Similar aesthetics can be found in the Jenga-like Coeda House on Japan's Pacific coast, the Odunpazari Modern Art Museum in Turkey (ongoing) and inside a warped and wonderful Starbucks in the trendy Tokyo suburb of Omotesando. Kuma says this penchant for timber and environmental consciousness can be traced back to his youth.

A Starbucks Coffee shop in the Tokyo suburb of Omotesando. By Kengo Kuma & Associates
A Starbucks Coffee shop in the Tokyo suburb of Omotesando. By Kengo Kuma & Associates

"It's to do with my memory and nostalgia for my own childhood," he explains. "My family's house was in a suburb of Tokyo, which was an old wooden house surrounded by hills, woods and farms, and all of them were still very much a part of our life. I think architecture blended with its surroundings is a necessary shift now, considering the rapidly deteriorating environment on the global scale."

It should come as no surprise, then, that the new stadium for the 2020 Olympic Games is designed to inspire the same kind of environmental consciousness in Japan's next generation.

"I was a child of the 1964 Olympics and received lots of inspirations from that period," he says. "The new stadium will be a good message from all of us for children, in creating their own future and keeping their respect towards nature."

To see more of Kuma's most eye-catching creations, be sure to have a look through our gallery.

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