words Anna Bates
Blowing was the process Japanese design studio Nendo used to make its series of mushroom-like polyester lamps.
Nendo was commissioned to explore the possibilities of a new thermoplastic fabric called Smash. “The material has this lightness and softness – it lets water and air through it,” says chief designer Oki Sato. “It’s closer looking to Japanese rice paper than plastic.”
Taking inspiration from Japanese rice paper and bamboo lanterns, the studio decided to try and make a seamless lamp out of Smash by blowing into it – a process more commonly associated with making glassware. “We shaped a sheet of Smash into a cylinder shape, set a balloon in it, put it into hot water, and then pumped it up to swell,” explains Nendo member Akihiro Ito.
It is impossible to completely control the process, so each fixture takes a unique form, Ito says. “Like in glass-blowing, we can intervene,” he continues, “which results in a collection of objects with varied imperfections.”
But while the process is quite straightforward, “when the balloons break, you end up with very hot water all over you,” Sato warns.
Once in shape, the forms are placed into cold water to harden, and a low-heat LED is fixed to the neck.
The project was commissioned by Muji art director and graphic designer Kenya Hara for Tokyo Fiber 09 Senseware, an exhibition exploring the possibilities of new materials developed with Japanese synthetic fibres.