This issue takes you to the land of saké and sushi, with a little wabi-sabi on the side. The Recipe to Japanese Design offers the ingredients to perfecting imperfection, while Japanese Designs in a Global Market looks into who’s selling Japanese products and how they’ve managed to hold onto the renowned quality of Japanese design. Patching up Holes with Japanese Architects reveals recently completed renovation projects with a story to tell.
To end the International Year of Light 2015, we take you to the Paris Climate Conference to check out incredible Solar Street Furniture. You’ll also find out who received the Lighting Architecture Movement Project finalist awards. From DNA designed textiles to Japanese “virtual makeup” to the Fiii Fun House in Buenos Aires to 3-D drawing tools, this issue is a great read to kickstart your 2016 inspiration.
The interior design profession in Japan, as explained by designer Kita Toshiyuki in 2012, was nearly nonexistent. The lifestyle there simply wouldn’t allow it. Limited space and cluttered shelves pushed the average citizen away from inviting guests over to admire their lovely home.
There is, however, a definite move...
“I’m afraid that with the lifestyle the Japanese have today, they are no longer capable of understanding what a good product is,” Kita Toshiyuki in an interview for Nippon in 2012.
Architecture professionals, along with the Japanese government, have been working hard on getting this “desire for good design” back into the lives of Japanese people. By renovating interior spaces and offering the people a renewed way of looking at objects: Japanese design will continue to travel through time.
“It’s not about forms, colors or anything like that. It’s the idea,” Oki Sato, founder of NENDO explains design in this video at Maison&Objet Paris 2015.
The Four Ingredients in Japanese Design
Despite challenges and Western influences, there are four ingredients in Japanese design, according to professor Takahiro Miyao: irregularity, simplicity, emotional suggestiveness—getting people to feel something—and perishability, whose meaning encompasses both nature and impermanence.
Miyao explains in the video “Japan’s Culture – Design,” released August 5, 2014, that while the Japanese like simple designs, they “enjoy a contrast between regularity and irregularity.”
In the interior of a Japanese home, he says that the placement of objects and the design of the structure will all seem rather well put together. However, in the middle of such “regularity” will be an element that sticks out.
“Another characteristic of Japanese design is its practicality. It is well known that Japanese products are beautiful, simple and practical.”
Miyao points to crafts as the origins of this practical aspect. “In the West, the designers used to be hired by the rich and powerful to create something magnificent to impress people. In contrast, Japanese designers are essentially craftsmen, interacting with the common people. That bottom-up interaction led to Japanese design.”
“It’s more about the bottom-up interaction and practicality than Western design.”
A thought for designer Yukio Ota, who passed away on July 6, 2015.
“Japanese design is a means of communication and of achieving harmony in a bottom-up way, as compared to the top-down nature of the West.”
Wabi-sabi, Beauty in Imperfections
“There’s a big crack in it,” a client said to Mira Nakashima at U.S.-based George Nakashima Woodworker. Nakashima furniture pieces offer “the tree” a second life, while respecting its organic aesthetics like ridges, cracks and holes. “People don’t always understand what we’re doing here,” Mira told ArchiExpo.
Mira’s father George, of Japanese descent, had the opportunity to work alongside renowned architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright. His world travels sent him to Tokyo where he worked at the Antonin Raymond office.
George Nakashima brought Japanese culture and values to the United States when he opened his woodworker shop. Mira, having grown up in the shop and around these values, describes them as “Respect for the past. Respect for nature. Nowadays these values are in danger of being lost.”
Nakashima furniture, similar to its Japanese-based counterpart Sakura shop, radiates respect for nature and natural forms. “Wabi-sabi,” Mira said.
In Japanese, wabi-sabi represents the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is often described as beauty that is imperfect, impermanent and incomplete. Characteristics of wabi-sabi are roughness, irregularity, simplicity, asymmetry, intimacy and appreciation of the ingenuous integrity of natural objects and processes.
According to Maeda, Japanese values include benevolence, brotherhood, staking one’s life on technology and skills, humanity versus technology, perseverance no matter what, the notion that failure leads to wonder, Kokorozashi, mashups and learning from everyday life.
Kokorozashi (Jap.): The fundamental disposition of will and longing to find truth and enlightenment.
“Toshio Suzuki described Studio Ghibli’s approach to animation,” continues Maeda. “It’s to never go out into the field of research. They never do research. They don’t study ‘things.’ They have to research their everyday life.”
Japanese design is known for its wabi-sabi. A good number of top designers from the land of saké and sushi accentuate the “four ingredients” in their product designs and carry on this international legacy. Despite Toshiyuki’s past concerns about how Japanese people view beautiful objects, Japanese design will certainly live on.
Enjoy this video on a traditional Japanese tea ceremony:
International design boutiques are forging relationships with native Japanese makers in order to support Japanese values, or wabi-sabi. How do these international boutiques honor and promote the quality found in Japanese designs, representing the imperfections of life and reinforcing spiritual connection with...
“We use design to deal with waste,” Czech idea maker Jindrich Fialka told ArchiExpo.
“We are a team of designers that give leftover materials from industrial production a new lease of life. We think it’s essential to be part of the solution to a growing problem.”
The Thought Bubble
It began with a dream, Fialka explained. He quit college, spent twice the money he had at the time and turned his dream into reality. In 2013 Fialka launched the startup Contiqua. He went to several companies, gathering leftover materials.
Fialka acquired remnants from leather upholstery manufacturerWollsdorf, for example. While Fialka uses design, he doesn’t claim to be a designer: He’s an idea maker. It’s his savvy team of designers who come up with a product based on his detailed idea description. From leather remnants, they made wallets for their first product line. It doesn’t stop there.
“I was at a traffic light one day,” Fialka said, “and I imagined the unique shapes that would remain from the metal cut-outs used to hold the light.”
Lo and behold, a light fixture was designed by Matyas Fuchs.
Customized lighting installation for the Prague Innovation Center building by Matyas Fuchs
Branching out to jewelry, Fialka pondered materials and ecology. With wood in mind, he decided he could make earrings from the remains of pianos. This idea was not strictly “green” focused, but an attempt to evoke an emotional connection to history.
“The most important part for me is the story behind it.”
A simple element can ignite a dream, like the traffic light. Fialka takes his idea, and then writes up a design brief for the designers. The brief identifies the product and cost and selects materials and technologies.
“I avoid saying what it should look like—shape, colors. That’s the designers’ work.”
Companies are turning around and commissioning Contiqua to design products for them. Fialka is thrilled.
“It’s still the same process, just designing for someone else.”
A short video about how 3M Česko and the Contiqua company collaborated to make a unique light from possible waste material:
Contiqua has been asked to design the trophy awarded to the top women of the Czech Republic this January 2016. The object’s form echoes the tiny bay leaf berry earrings worn by the late Emmy Destinn on the 2000 koruna Czech bill. An opera singer in the first part of the 20th century, Destinn remains one of the most prominent female figures in Czech history. Jindrich’s Contiqua is also developing a relationship with the megalith enterprise Skanska.
Consistent with its daringness, Contiqua is advancing its tech smarts with another startup, designing an electronic long board made entirely of carbon fibers. ArchiExpo is eager to hear what Fialka will connect to skateboarding, but for now that’s another story.