This month, On: Design invites product designer and Japanologist Maurice E. Zacher to introduce his top Japanese design picks from the 2018 Salone del Mobile Milano interior and furniture fair, held in Italy on April 17-22.
Nendo never fails
For most regulars to the Salone del Mobile in Milan in recent years, the exhibitions by Nendo have become a must-see. No event has a longer queue and it’s the one time when you really wish you had a fast pass. But it’s always worth the wait, and not just for Japanophiles and design lovers, but for anyone hoping to see a spectacle.
For 2018, Nendo displayed objects and furniture made in collaboration with seven Japanese manufacturers, among them Daikin (air conditioning and refrigeration systems) and YKK (zippers and fasteners). Instead of focusing on designing objects, the projects showcased new materials, including fluoropolymer plastic and three- and four-way zippers, with innovative production techniques to visualize “movement.”
Also focusing on movement, though the intangible passage of time, was watchmaker Grand Seiko, which made its debut at the international design fair this year. Installed on the first floor of the Design Museum La Triennale di Milano, right in the heart of the 39-hectare city park Parco Sempione, Grand Seiko’s display turned out to be one of the most stunning product and video installations of Salone 2018.
Titled “The Flow of Time” and designed by Takt Project, it involved 12 acrylic objects placed on plinths lined up in front of a giant video installation. Suspended in each of the transparent objects, which ranged in shape from a cylinder to an upside-down water drop, were parts of Grand Seiko’s new Spring Drive watch.
The result was an artistic timeline of creation, with each object revealing an incremental movement of the components inside it. Visitors could see the watch come together — from the dispersed separated parts of the first work to the fully assembled watch inside the last. Projected on the screen behind, video footage representing the flow of time — sunrises, ripples of water, blossom fall — surrounded viewers as it reflected through the display and across a glossy black floor.
The big winners
This year, two major, globally renowned Japanese electronic companies — Panasonic and Sony — won Milano Design Awards.
Panasonic got to celebrate its 100-year anniversary with the award for Best Technology for “Air Inventions,” its installation at the atrium of the monumental and breathtaking Baroque palace Palazzo di Brera.
A huge domed pavilion, “Air Inventions” was an immersive experience of silky fine mist onto which Panasonic’s visualizations of air were projected for a surround vision effect. It also featured Panasonic’s latest air-purification technology to provide an oasis of what it says was “the cleanest air in Milan.” The goal was not just to design an object, but create an intangible and memorable experience, one in which visitors could take deep breaths and enjoy a calming effect.
Sony’s contribution, “Hidden Senses” at Spazio Zegna in the Tortona district, won the Milano Design Award for Best Playfulness with its journey of the senses via five “case study” rooms. In each of the first four rooms, visitors interacted with light, shadows, sounds, objects and other interiors through touch and movement. The fifth room implemented the demonstrated innovations in products designed for everyday use.
Examples included a wall on which pictures and photos would change or blend together depending on the viewers’ movements, a shelf that changed the appearance of its material depending on what was placed on it, and a tactile seesaw-like bench that responded to the sitters’ movements. As a fully tactile and interactive installation, it’s little surprise the show was a prize winner.
Japanese product design, too, was well represented this year.
Karimoku New Standard, the Japanese wooden goods manufacturer known to collaborate with a global list of contemporary designers, showcased nine new items at the main fair in Milan and also featured some beautiful handpicked porcelain pieces from the 2016/Arita project. Highlights included the new Panorama chair with runners by Geckeler Michels, a green Elephant Sofa by Christian Haas and an extra large version of the Colour Wood table designed by Scholten & Baijings — all distinguished pieces of product design combined with a deep understanding of carpentry craftsmanship.
Since its launch in 2009, Karimoku New Standard has yet to disappoint. Its furniture design, wood finishes, upholstery fabrics, color palettes — even booth designs — are consistently well coordinated, no matter which fair it shows at.
At the SaloneSatellite platform for students, university projects and up-and-coming designers, two graduates from Tama Art University drew attention.
Yuri Himuro, who exhibited at last year’s Satellite, impressed again, this time with her new Bloom collection. Last year, Himuro introduced fabrics that revealed hidden patterns when parts were snipped away. Bloom, however, is a series of wool fabrics that have completely different patterns and colors on each side. To achieve this double-sided textile, a special shrinking technique is used on the woven patterns to ensure they are not visible on the reverse. One side of her blankets show beautiful wisterias, dahlias, narcissus or gypsophilas, while the other reveals the stems and leaf patterns of each flower. The blankets can be used like throws over a sofa or bed and draped to reveal a mix of the vibrant flowers and foliage.
Kunikazu Hamanishi’s folding sofa Branco also deserves a mention for its attractive simplicity combined with comfort. The design of the two-seat sofa , which was inspired by a deck chair, consists of a simple metal pipe frame and a large folded cushion with a leather belt attached to each end. The belts not only create a noticeable and interesting design feature, but they also hold the X shape of the metal frame together. This means when dismantled, it can be flatpacked for storage. Beautiful in color — a dusty green — and in material composition, it’s ready for production. Having tested it myself, it’s also as comfortable as it looks.
Maurice Eric Zacher is product designer and Japanologist, and has studied in Tokyo and Kyoto. He works in glass, porcelain, furniture and interior design and is a 2018 Design Plus Award winner.