Japan is clearly having some fun with transparent product design.


Even though they are prototypes, it is no surprise that Haruka Misawa’s Waterscape aquariums have had design publications gushing with admiration. Not only are they beautiful minimal objets d’art but they’re also very clever utilizations of the laws of physics.

Misawa, whose resume includes stints at Nendo and the Hara Design Institute, also created the Pointed T Japanese terrier dog house for the Architecture for Dogs project. Involving a large paper cone suspended on a single thread, the Pointed T shows that Misawa has always had an affinity for pets and floating objects.

These aquariums experiment with delicate 3-D-printed forms that normally couldn’t stand upright, but their buoyancy in water turns them into free-floating architectural and amorphous forms that aquatic life can interact with.

Haruka Misawa's Waterscape aquarium

Perhaps even more impressive are the tanks that make use of atmospheric and water pressure to support submerged inverted glass domes to provide underwater air pockets or, as in one case, to raise a water-filled sphere above the water line.

The Waterscape series was originally shown as exhibition works in Tokyo last year and in Taiwan in April, so they are not yet in production, but you can find a video of them at bit.ly/waterscapevd, and if you’re interested in the schematics, there’s a book with photos and explanatory diagrams available for $12.29 at bit.ly/waterscapebk.



Skirting around shoe design

Ever-prolific, Nendo keeps on producing such striking new designs — often in collaborations with unlikely partners — that it’s impossible to ignore. Most recently, it stepped into the territory of shoe design for Seibu department store’s Limited Edition brand.

Skirt-shoes, as Nendo is calling these women’s pumps, are dressed up with little skirts draped over the heels. There are three styles — one is split across the middle with a PVC transparent stripe; another is made from perforated leather; and the last uses colored PVC for sandals. They all keep the shoes’ heels visible and are designed to sway gently when walking.

As a project to help support Farandole, a small shoemaking workshop in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward, Nendo points out that manufacturing such smooth and almost seamless designs combining leather and PVC is particularly challenging — something that only highly skilled artisans can achieve.

The Limited Edition shoes are currently available at Seibu department store, priced ¥23,220 (sandal), ¥24,840 (striped) and ¥26,460 (perforated).

Nendo has also made the invisible visible by using the movement of doors and drawers to create a unique series of furniture for a display at last month’s Collective Design Fair in New York. The Trace Container series consists of box structures that each have a different configuration of openings, identified by a black wire frame that traces the edges of opened doors and drawers. The geometric lines make unusual design features, but they also indicate how much space a cabinet really takes.


Leaving just a trace

Microwork's Trace jars

On a smaller scale, Microworks has launched a venture also called Trace, though this time the name is derived from tracing the past of recycled jars. This is one of those incredibly simple but remarkably effective ideas that makes you wonder why someone didn’t think of this sooner?

Microworks takes old jars and bottles and sandblasts them with their original labels still attached. The exposed glass becomes opaque so that when the stickers are removed, they reveal clear windows, which essentially become visual labels of the containers’ contents. The frosted effect is fingerprint- and dirt-resistant, and the lids are coated in a rustproof paint. Will absolutely no-frills, these containers may tempt even the most hardened minimalist to store more stuff.

Trace jars vary from ¥1,296 to around ¥3,000, and are available online at traces.thebase.in.


Bright ideas

Though they’ve been around a while, Yumakano’s lightbulb vases are another recycling project that we love, and so we’re adding them as a bonus mention on this month’s On: Design.

Yumakano’s lightbulb vases

There are a few vases made from lightbulbs on the market, but most use the screw-in end to put the flowers, which means they need to be kept upright and either suspended or on a stand. Yumakano’s however, have small holes cut out of the glass section of the bulb, so that they sit on their sides. They are also placed on small transparent rings, making them appear as if they are free-standing and the filaments inside the bulbs help keep plant stems upright.

Designer Yuma Kano notes that since 2007 Japan’s environment ministry requested electronics companies to stop manufacturing or selling incandescent light bulbs because they are less environmentally friendly than LED ones. So this is his way of keeping a little bit of history alive.

Available from the Yumanako website, the vases are all made from recycled bulbs, so prices vary depending on the style. Contact the designer Yuma Kano for more details.


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