The Local Industry × Design (Part 2)
IGARASHI DESIGN STUDIO has been offering potential solutions to the challenges faced by local industries through product design since the 1990s. In this article (1&2), we will present some of the work we have done so far, as well as some of the secret stories behind the development of our products.
Designs utilizing scrap wood
―In 1998, you developed PURE+Pure, a series of furniture made from scrap wood, in collaboration with a furniture manufacturer in Miyakonojo City, Miyazaki Prefecture.
Igarashi：Miyakonojo City also originally made a wedding chest. They used camphor wood as the material, but camphor wood contains an ingredient used as a source of camphor, an insect repellant. Moreover, the wood itself is curved and not straight. So, when the wood is sawn, 40% of it is crooked and cannot be used for furniture. In most cases, these offcuts are used as fuel for factories, but the volume is quite large. We developed PURE+Pure in response to a request to see if we could somehow make use of those scrap materials and turn them into a product. The plan was not to make a wedding chest, but rather to cut solid wood into small pieces to create a patchwork-like laminated wood, and then develop it into cupboards, tables, chairs, etc., taking advantage of its unique appearance.
―The natural coloring of the wood with gradations is beautiful.
Igarashi：Some camphor trees become darker toward the base of the tree or have different wood colors within a single tree. If the contrast between the darker and lighter colors was too strong, the patchwork would be too gaudy and a little uncomfortable. So, we decided to stain the surface with natural paint to soften the contrast.
―It takes a tremendous amount of work.
Igarashi：It takes a lot of time and effort. Since camphor wood contains an ingredient that is an insect repellant as camphor in the first place, it must be placed in a steamer for three months to let the smell settle down before it can be used.
―Did you originally have the technology to make laminated wood in this region?
Igarashi：That did not seem to be the case. However, considering the difficult problem of using solid wood scraps, they were very cooperative and said, “Let’s do as much as we can” in response to our suggestions. When we told them that the design would not work unless the wood joints were square patchworks, they came up with a way to avoid showing the jagged joints by placing the finger joints on the inside of the wood. I think wood is the most difficult material to work with. Because the wood is local, the experience and wisdom of the local people are utilized in the design. In rural areas, factories are spacious and there is a lot of manpower. Everyone is very enthusiastic about manufacturing and works very hard. What is interesting about local industry is that I meet with these people and have serious discussions with them about how I can edit their work and make it useful. I think it is a designer’s job to think about how to match the modern world.
Difference between space design and product design
―While you are involved in the development of furniture made of wood, you also develop products for daily life using various materials, such as flower vases and wind chimes made of tin. You have made beer mugs with Hase-en of Iga, Mie Prefecture, which is very famous for its earthenware pots.
Igarashi：Hase-en is a long-established manufacturer of Iga-yaki pottery, founded in Tempo 3, but they are also engaged in a project to develop products other than earthenware pots. The earthenware pot’s clay layer contains air, and the vaporization heat effect allows you to enjoy cold beer slowly. I was asked to join a project in which 4-5 designers each designed a beer mug because of this kind of potential. I didn’t have the image of using rough, earthenware-like ceramics in my own life, so I applied a white glaze to create a neutral look. The mugs are stackable and slightly indented to fit comfortably in the hand, making them suitable for drinking tea as well as beer.
―What is the difference between the design of large products, such as furniture and spaces, and the design of small products used in daily life?
Igarashi：For example, a clock is designed to be placed in a space, but when it comes to vessels, it is inevitably placed in a daily life. It depends on the case, but I always have an image of placing it in a space. How would it look in a room? I don’t think I would design without such thoughts in mind.
―You have developed a series of vases together with Nosaku Corporation of Takaoka City, Toyama Prefecture, that vase also looks like an object of art.
Igarashi：Nosaku is a cast metal manufacturer that originally made Buddhist altarware and tea ceremony utensils. We were asked to design a vase because tin, a material that resists water corrosion, is suitable for vases. We are all familiar with vases in our daily lives, but we thought it would be nice if we could make a vase that would look good in a space even when flowers are not arranged in it. So, we created a vase with three fruit motifs: apples, figs, and pears, all of which have a natural appearance.
―Why the fruit motif?
Igarashi：I think that natural formations have a perfect and beautiful form all by themselves. I also admire them. But I don’t think they are just as they are, and I think the balance of the form is deliberately disrupted to create a shape that doesn’t exist. Also, when making a tin product, originally it was called a sand mold. First, a mold is made by compressing sand around the center of the model. Then tin is poured into the mold to make the product, but for this series, it was determined that a sand mold would be difficult to use, so a mold was made from silicon.
―Your creative ideas and designs have led to technological innovation.
Igarashi：The manufacturer said that the mission was how to respond to the designer, and the idea of a silicon mold was being developed just at that time. Another unique feature of this design is the uneven surface. When tin is made into a product, it takes a lot of time and effort to polish the surface to a shiny finish. The time and effort required is also reflected in the cost. I liked the texture of the slightly uneven surface, called nashiji, so for this vase, I dared not to polish it, but thought that the grooves on the surface could be used to digest the joints of the mold in the design.
―Listening to you, I get the sense that you make great use of your clients’ strengths and skills. Do you sometimes give priority to design rather than to the time and effort of the craftsman?
Igarashi：After conducting research, we will create a design draft and consult with the client on areas that are not clear. However, since there will be uncertainties in the technical aspects of the design until the final design is finalized, we will finalize the design once we have a rough understanding of the client’s characteristics. We look at the finished design together and discuss any problems that may arise during the actual creation process.
―How long does it take to make one product?
Igarashi：It depends on how many prototypes are made. Also, both furniture design and product design often have an exhibition scheduled in advance, so the overall schedule is often fixed. In such cases, the product is made after 1~2 prototypes.
―I got the impression that rather than imposing unreasonable challenges, they were gradually guiding and stepping up their efforts through discussions with manufacturers, resulting in technological innovations by the manufacturers.
Igarashi：You could say that in the first project. However, after two or three times of collaboration, we may jump to the next time and say, “Let’s try something more challenging”. In any case, it is impossible to know how good we are at each other’s work just once, so we hope to work with each other more than once.