Posts Tagged ‘Naomi Pollock’

Design | Made in Japan

Friday, September 7th, 2012

Made in Japan: 100 New Products
By Naomi Pollock
Foreword by  Reiko Sudo
Merrell Publishers
September, 2012

It’s not surprising that in a world that gets smaller every day in terms of communications, and where cross-cultural influences ebb and flow like never before, that modern product design, increasingly aimed at global markets, has taken on homogenous characteristics. There are of course exceptions but while, for instance, many contemporary Scandinavian products from furniture to glassware remain recognisably Scandinavian, the majority of people would be hard pushed to say whether an item in London’s Skandium shop, which stocks exclusively Scandinavian products, is of Swedish, Danish, Finnish or even Norwegian origin. One wonders whether the inhabitants of these countries themselves can tell the difference. Reiko Sudo, artistic director of Japan’s award-winning Nuno Corporation, in her thoughtful foreword to Japan-based American architect Naomi Pollock’s Made in Japan, thanks her for for identifying the common threads that link Japanese traditional culture and the country’s present day products and recognises that they are perhaps more easily identified through an outsider’s eyes.

The one hundred 21st century products selected for inclusion by Pollock are carefully chosen for their ingenuity, shape and fabrication and tell a story of Japan’s unique design heritage, which has survived partly due to the country’s self-inflicted 200 year isolation, spanning the 1630s to the 1850s, a period in which its borders were closed to foreigners and foreign trade severely restricted, and despite the rapid industrialisation that followed – accomplished with much British help – and major wars it was involved in, in the twentieth century. Still fiercely proud of their rich culture and handicraft tradition, combining cutting-edge technology and precision with stylish design, Japan’s contemporary product creators elevate everyday functional items – paper products, kitchen utensils, flooring, furniture – into works of art that are frequently but indefinably Japanese.

Pollock describes how observations and contributions from outsiders have often been of importance to Japan’s designers. One product in particular, the Ripples bench, above, by Toyo Ito of Toyo Ito & Associates, Architects, designed in 2003, was originally produced in steel and concrete until Luciano Marson, founder of Italy’s Horm, asked: ‘Why don’t we bring it to life?’ His question led to the bench being redeveloped using layers of different laminated wood into which circular, bottom-sizes depressions are bored before hand-sanding and oiling meld the layers into a single flowing, continuous surface. It’s anecdotal details like this that demonstrate the depth of Pollock’s knowledge and painstaking research and make this book special and well worth spending time reading.

As an object itself, Made in Japan, is interesting. The attractive and unusual binding – cloth spine with hard covers – is reminiscent of one of my favourite books in my collection: How to Wrap Five More Eggs by Hideyuki Oka (originally published by Wetherill in 1975, recently republished version available from Amazon) the definitive guide to Japanese traditional packaging. Looking at the two books side by side, the content is different but the sense of continuity is unmistakeable. Unfortunately, designwise however, between the covers it’s another story. Whereas How to Wrap… is laid out with sensitivity – pictures played off against one another or against white or black space – and with an eye to creating rhythm and drama, Made in Japan , aside from the introductory pages is strictly regimented and dully repetitious – product pictures on the right facing equal lengths of text and almost identical display type on the left – and suggestive of a trade catalogue.

Images from top
Plugo extension leads by Masayuki Kurakata/Monos, 2007
©Isuo Sato/Masayuki Kurakata
Standing rice scoops by Marna
Ripples bench by Toyo Ito/Toyo Ito & Associates, Architects
©Giani Antoniali/Ikon

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