A range of simple wooden furniture, designed to be built and used by survivors of the Japanese tsunami, is finding a wider commercial appeal. Some of the works are on display as part of London Design Festival this week
Following the tsunami that devastated the local community in the coastal area of Ishinomaki city in the Miyagi prefecture of Japan, Tokyo-based architect Keiji Ashizawa headed to the region to visit a client.
While helping to restore the restaurant they had been working on together, Ashizawa realised there was a need for a space where people could learn the skills to rebuild their homes and businesses. Soon after, he and a team of volunteers founded the Ishinomaki Laboratory.
The project quickly gained traction with support from companies such as Herman Miller. A series of workshops given to students and adults produced designs that, although borne from necessity and tragedy, started to gain a commercial appeal – largely thanks to the close collaboration with established designers.
Last year saw the founding of Ishinomaki Laboratory Inc, which manufactures and sells the designs. And this summer, furniture designer SCP is exhibiting works as part of its Simplified Beauty show during the London Design Festival.
On a visit to Japan earlier this year, SCP founder Sheridan Coakley and designer Reiko Kaneko saw Ishinomaki Workshop's designs and realised they reflected the show's underlying concept – the celebration of things as they should be. "We found that there was a certain creative energy," says Kaneko.
"People in the area have found new roles in the community thanks to the laboratory. The factory manager, for example, used to be a sushi chef." The works in the collection areby a variety of Japanese and international designers and they are all constructed in red cedar. Each incorporates standard sizes and cuts of timber, assembled in myriad ways to serve a practical purpose. As such, there is an aesthetic that unites the whole collection, be it a bench designed by Tomoko Azumi in London or a stool designed by Ashizawa in Tokyo.
Azumi is developing a prototype that will be unveiled in London this month, following the Carry stool she created in 2013. "It was a real challenge to create something joyful and robust with such limited means," she says of the Carry stool.
"I got sent a list of the materials and the machinery, which seemed quite primitive. I wanted to create something very light and durable, but didn't want to waste anything." The Carry stool is a low seat with a frame which, when the stool is turned upside down, can be used as a container for transporting items. This practical thinking, reined in by the limited means the workshop has for production, is proving invaluable for the community that needs the furniture, and appealing for the consumers who desire it.
"It was like a jigsaw puzzle," says Azumi. "In Europe we have many techniques to make sure things look the way we want. At the laboratory I had to think about fundamentals."
Images: Ishinomaki Laboratory