Japan House London presents ‘Prototyping in Tokyo’ to illustrate design-led innovation

‘I’m told there is something Japanese in my prototyping,’ says professor Yamanaka Shunji, ‘that it has this “Japanese style”’, he smiles as he guides us around ‘Prototyping in Tokyo: Illustrating Design-led Innovation’ (until 17 March, 2019). The design engineer and University of Tokyo professor continues: ‘I don’t go about trying to be so, but perhaps there is something in the attitude that is Japanese.’

We are at the latest exhibition in Japan House London. Exhibited on long floating white tables, in this minimalist basement gallery of the deco building, are examples of objects showing the possibilities of advanced design and engineering in positively shaping our future. Perhaps it is the meticulousness of this collection, the earnestness of each object on display, as well as the modest presentation of the creator which makes the show distinctly Japanese in style.

‘Prototyping in Tokyo’ takes on three main themes: additive manufacturing, bio-likeness robots and prosthetics. The first looks at prototyping and rapidly evolving technologies like 3D printing which allow engineers and designers to create infinitely more complex structures in a fraction of a time it would take to do this otherwise.

Bio-likeness robots proposes adding life-like motion and behaviour to typically mechanical metal-and-motor robots. Yamanaka has therefore injected the impression of intelligence to these man-made objects. For example, the robot ‘Apostroph’ examines mechanisms that allow living organisms to stand. Or ‘Ready to Crawl’ are a series of working robots, created to be fully formed just like a living thing. This means all the various parts were created and fully-assembled simultaneously, with form and movement closely mirroring living species. The professor moves his hands across the sensors and one by one these intricate little robots come alive. We are encouraged to touch and interact with select displays, to feel the structures and textures of the future.

The final section feels like the area closest to impacting on reality. Prosthetics presents various interpretations of elements of the human body – limbs etc – and the advantages of working with 3D printing in terms of speed and accuracy of construction. For instance, ’Rabbit’ are a series of bespoke prostheses designed for competitive running. They are made to measure for Takakuwa Saki, the Japanese Paralympics athlete who is now part of the development team at the Yamanaka’s laboratory.

He is keen to also show how new tech can advance old tech. For this the professor takes on the karakuri ningyo automaton, popular puppets that perform continuous movements, yet their clothing traditionally hides the clever mechanics beneath. Yamanaka wants to highlight the beauty of the machinery, commissioning a ninth-generation master craftsman to make a doll of bare mechanics as the wooden ‘Young Archer’ plucks an arrow out of the quiver, notches it to the bow, and shoots.

‘Prototyping in Tokyo’ is a glimpse into the future with a touch of the present. This is about exploring the potential of prototypes to act as a link between cutting-edge technology and society. These 3D printed objects, moving mini robots and prosthetics offer a human touch to machinery. This is warm tech – technology not made for the ego, but for progressing life.

Yamanaka returns to his initial statement: ‘A professor from the US described his understanding of “Japanese style”, as the fusion of organic and machine-made. Although what I am doing is simply searching for the common ground between science and beauty.’

Images © Kato Yasushi and Shimizu Yukio. In order: ‘Apostroph’ explores the act of standing; ‘Ready to Crawl’ mini robots with natural movements; ‘Rami’ – additively manufactured running specific prosthetics; ‘Archer on a Boat’ skeletal automation 

Design Talks | The Textile Building | 29a Chatham Place | London | E9 6FJ | UK
Design Talks is published by Spinach Design
All rights and labelled images are covered by ©

Japan House London presents ‘Subtle’ to salute paper art

Paper is alive. Paper breathes. Paper is ever-evolving, changing conceptually and physically with time. Paper can be moulded, manipulated, sculpted. It can be decorative, functional, seductive, argumentative. It can even deceive. ‘Subtle: Delicate or Infinitesimal’ at Japan House London explores the possibilities of paper.

The show is curated and directed by Kenya Hara, the gallery’s global chief creative director and art director at Muji. The display is subtle, modest even, set within the building’s clean and clear deco beauty. It begs you to walk up, take an intimate look at these delicate objects and read the accompanying text which adds intrigue. For instance, the Origata Design Institute writes alongside its exhibit: ‘The act of folding paper – once you fold, you cannot return to the original state… but then you create structure and entrust your feelings onto paper.’

‘Subtle’ follows a successful run at Japan House’s other galleries in Los Angeles and São Paulo. The idea originates from the Takeo Paper Show, which began in Tokyo in 1965 as a way of engaging artists, challenging them to find new potentials for paper. Fifteen creatives living and working in Japan are on show here. They come from a diverse set of disciplines too – art, animation, architecture, fashion, graphic design and literature – each introducing their very own unique layer to this intriguing paper narrative. It reminds us of the value of the material, whilst highlighting the delicate craft of paper art in a modern light.

‘Subtle’ is at Japan House London until 24 December.
All images are © Jeremie Souteyrat, Japan House London.

Read about the previous exhibitions at Japan House.

Design Talks | The Textile Building | 29a Chatham Place | London | E9 6FJ | UK
Design Talks is published by Spinach Design
All rights and labelled images are covered by ©

Highlights from London Design Biennale 2018

‘Emotional States’ sets the theme for the 2018 London Design Biennale with Somerset House once again forming the brilliant backdrop to installations conceived by architects, designers and artists from six continents. The responses are varied. Apart from a handful of pavilions seemingly concerned with pleasing the instagram crowd, most others have responded with emotion and urgency to the sustainability of our planet, identity and nationhood, war and destruction and lost civilisations.

Some offer intellectual solutions. At the UK pavilion, ‘Maps of Defiance’ by Forensic Architecture looks at how design can directly inform new perspectives and lines of investigation. This is an emotional project about preserving disappearing cultures. Through digital tools and image-capture the team record and preserve evidence of cultural heritage destruction and genocide, such as the savagely ravaged Yazidi community of Iraq presented at the Biennale. The idea is to eventually reconstruct the buildings and rebuild these communities.

At the US pavilion, ‘Face Values’ by Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum explores alternative uses of technology, and consider the vast capabilities of digital design. We are encouraged to make expressive gestures and allow the machine to translate our emotions, so live facial data form the basis for a dialogue on the provocative relationship between man and machine.

A few pavilions take a dark dystopian turn. Austria’s ‘After Abundance’ asked us to enter a terrifying post climate change world where Alpine forests are fast disappearing and rain is artificially created. ‘Matter to Matter’, the LDB winning pavilion by Latvia’s Arthur Analts of Variant Studio, asks visitors to leave fleeting messages on his wall of condensation to explore the transience of emotions and the ways in which nature reclaims the marks we leave behind. Others offer a touch of hope. Over at the Brazil pavilion, London-based designer David Elia sets out to give a voice to ecological anger with his ‘Desmatamento’ (deforestation). This tranquil room shares the beauty and significance of the diminishing Amazon rainforest.

Finally, the Refugees’ Pavilion tells the story of the survival of displaced people through creativity. Housed within the flat-pack structure ‘Better Shelter’ (the winner of the Design Museum‘s 2016 Design of the Year), we enter the temporary world of refugees to see their stories through the objects they place on display, so as to humanise their conditions.

LDB opened its doors to the public last week and will be at Somerset House, London until 23 September.

Take a look at the inaugural 2016 LDB on the theme of ‘Utopia by Design’

All images © Ed Reeve

Design Talks | The Textile Building | 29a Chatham Place | London | E9 6FJ | UK
Design Talks is published by Spinach Design
All rights and labelled images are covered by ©

Sou Fujimoto speculates future architecture at Japan House London

‘Creating architecture is like planting seeds of the future,’ according to Sou Fujimoto. The architect’s ideas for the future are speculative. He does not believe in offering a concrete vision, but rather open a conversation on the potentials of buildings, civic, commercial or residential, in shaping our future. This philosophy forms the basis of a fascinating show and the inaugural exhibition at Japan House London. Curated in collaboration with Tokyo’s Toto Gallery, ‘Future of the Futures’ presents the work of Fujimoto, the influential contemporary architects who is a leading figure amongst Japan’s new generation of creatives.

Opened last month in a gloriously restored deco building on Kensington High Street – the former home of soulless US brand Gap – the basement gallery at Japan House feels the perfect space to contemplate the world of Fujimoto. This is a quiet space of pristine white walls where Fujimoto’s intricately-crafted models, so delicate you worry your breath may topple them over, are surrounded by large-scale photographs of his finished buildings. There is little text to accompany ‘Future of the Futures’, for the curators want us to delve into the imagination of the architect, and for this to be more of an open dialogue than a fixed set of answers.

On the day I visit, the crowd are a mixed group. There are well-healed Kensington residents returning from grocery shopping at the nearby Whole Foods. Children on their summer break marvel at the architectural models made of everyday objects – foam, clay, paper. There is the odd tourist who must have happened here by chance.

Born in Hokkaido in 1971, a graduate of the University of Tokyo department of architecture, Fujimoto established Sou Fujimoto Architects in 2000 before creating his most celebrated works – the Final Wooden House and House N, Musashino Art University Museum & Library and the brilliant House NA here on show with what I’m told are the actual residents of this modular Tokyo private residents, and in the UK, the 2013 Serpentine Gallery Pavilion.

Fujimoto’s work is completely site-specific. ‘When we design, we pay close attention to the context of the site, the requests of our clients, and the cultural and historical backgrounds of each local community,’ he explains, adding it inspires him to create ‘actual places’ where people want to occupy. There is a definite blurring of inside and out in his work. He says, ‘a residence is the integration of interior and exterior, nature and architecture.’

Working within a context allows his work to open ideas that may be hidden in societies. Fujimoto explains: ‘If what we call future is defined as a series of manifestation of possibilities, I would say that small architectural proposals that stimulate them are seeds of the future.’ His philosophy is to use these so-called seeds, cast them into the hypothetical future and witness the possibilities.

‘Futures of the Future’ runs for one last week at Japan House London.

Nargess Banks

All images featured here are for editorial use only and © Adrian Brooks/Imagewise for Japan House London

Read about The Japan House, Architecture and Life after 1945 at the Barbican Gallery here

Design Talks | The Textile Building | 29a Chatham Place | London | E9 6FJ | UK
Design Talks is published by Spinach Design
All rights and labelled images are covered by ©

Radical Essex: A complex county of raw beauty and modernism

‘Essex is neither part of East Anglia, nor one of the Home Counties; it contains both radical and conservative elements, and is therefore open to all possibilities,’ writes architectural critic Ken Worpole in Radical Essex. Sitting on the edge of east London, a rural refuge for much of the cockney diaspora, it certainly gets its fair share of crude stereotyping, and mockery – think The Only Way is Essex, spray tans and excessive makeup, bling cars and tacky bars.

There is, however, another Essex, one of raw rural beauty and elements of radicalism – in parts utopianism even, and Radical Essex is set to alter our views. There are the 1960s student halls at the University of Essex in Colchester, the bungalows at Silver End at Braintree, built by Francis Crittall and fitted with his famous steel frames, London Underground stations designer Charles Holden’s cottages near Maldon built in the 1920s and 30s, and there is the brilliant white crop of International Style houses at Frinton-on-Sea.

The initiative Radical Essex began two years ago with a goal to re-examine the history of the county in relation to radicalism in thought, lifestyle, politics and architecture. ‘Essex is a complex county, judged solely by more misguided stereotypes than perhaps any other,’ explains Joe Hill, director of Focal Point Gallery one of the founders of the project. She wants to ‘celebrate the extremes of this innovative and experimental county. From early modernist architectural experiments to worker colonies and pacifist communities, the county has always demonstrated its ability to be self-guided in its desires – to seek, experiment and redefine.’

A book of the same name, edited by Hill and Hayley Dixon, charts the project taking the subject further to include new writings and the photography of Catherine Hyland – featured here. This is a fascinating read that sheds light on the region’s pioneering thinking, and it certainly reveals an exciting side to Essex worth exploring.

Radical Essex is available to purchase at Focal Point Gallery or online at Cornerhouse Publications

Images in order:
Clacton Pier, Clacton-on-Sea, 2016, 
Essex University, Spender House Ulting 2016, and 
Lee Over Sands. All photographs © Catherine Hyland, Courtesy of Focal Point Gallery

Design Talks | The Textile Building | 29a Chatham Place | London | E9 6FJ | UK
Design Talks is published by Spinach Design
All rights and labelled images are covered by ©