Tokyo Designers Week 2013: The highs and lows

Elephant in the Grass
Among the satellite shows during Tokyo Designers Week was architecture practice Klein Dytham's 'Elephant in the Grass' installation at Dover Street Market Ginza, a celebration of the 80th anniversary of Alvar Aalto's iconic 'Stool 60'
(Image credit: press)

Tokyo Designers Week got off to a rocky start, with an earthquake tremor and torrential rains transforming the Aoyama site into a mud bath. It was a bad omen: now in its 28th year, the event that purports to gather 'excellent design from all over the world' appeared to be more of a commercial exercise directed at the local market than an international celebration of design.

This may be because the event (which takes place over ten days, turning the name into even more of a misnomer) has been rebranded by producer and founder Kenji Kawasaki as a 'creative festival'. This year he added large doses of art and music to a somewhat bewildering mix of Halloween-themed events, contemporary art (with the unfortunate motto 'Let's buy art!'), musical workshops and a British Beer Festival.

Happily there were still a few design gems to be found, albeit in such unlikely quarters as the booth for Japanese toilet manufacturer Toto. Its collaboration with Torafu Architects, Noriko Hashida, Asao Tokolo and Mai Miyake marked the 20th anniversary of the popular Neorest loo.

As in recent years, eco-design featured strongly with a return of the Sekisui pavilion and its vision for compact living. Smaller-scale products included Tokyo designer Shige Aoki's Fresco Garden, a multifunctional dispenser-container cap for plastic bottles.

There was significantly less furniture on show this year, but the Pikku birch wood range by Outofstock stood out for its simple, practical compact design with Nordic style. The autumn 2013 series features an expandable desk and sofa in an understated grey and white colour scheme.

Other interesting takes on form following function include Bordbar's reimagining of the classic airplane trolley as efficient storage for the home; Norwegian designer Bjorn Bye's travel-friendly hook; and Takayuki Kawai's dual-purpose emergency helmet and modern chair, perfectly timed given the opening-morning earthquake.

Usually a creative highlight, the show's trademark cargo containers, featuring visions of the future by emerging designers, was a mixed bag. One must-see was Slack Circuit by Alex Knezo and Akinori Hamada of Tokyo based studio_01. Their ethereal, curtain-like space was enveloped in transparent string that could be easily manipulated to change the size and shape of the space.

One of the highlights of this year's satellite shows, which popped up in galleries and department stores across the capital, was Elephant in the Grass by Klein Dytham Architecture at Dover Street Market Ginza, an installation celebrating the 80th anniversary of Alvar Aalto's iconic Stool 60. Founders Mark Dytham and Astrid Klein reinterpreted the classic lightweight stool in five new heights (the tallest at over 2m) and ordered them like blades of grass around the store's permanent Elephant sculpture, by British artist Stephanie Quayle.

Other strong offerings included 21-21 Design Sight's meditation on the role of design museums, with its retrospective of Japanese designs by Akiko Moriyama, Taku Satoh and Naoto Fukazawa; designer Kenya Hara's 'Architecture for Dogs' at Gallery Ma; and architect Ryuji Fujimura's Midtown Dungeon, an outdoor maze based on the Manhattan grid, complete with 'skyscraper' representing Central Park. And in the upmarket shopping area of Aoyama, close to the main Tokyo Designers Week site, there were many treasures to be found in the 'Any Tokyo' exhibition, including a series of glass vessels by Outofstock, and a 'Layered Wood' bench by Fumie Shibata and Sakai Sangyo.

The classic stools

The classic stools' legs appear as blades of grass contrasting with British artist Stephanie Quayle's Elephant sculpture. 'By extending the legs of the stool, the blades of grass grew longer,' said the designers

(Image credit: press)

Slack Circuit

Studio_01 founders Alex Knezo and Akinori Hamada created this 'Slack Circuit' installation specially for the Container exhibition at Tokyo Designers Week

(Image credit: Alex Knezo and Akinori Hamada)

Steel wires

It comprises steel wires connected to two moveable chains, creating a kinetic system in which the shape can be raised or lowered, forming 'rooms'

(Image credit: press)

Supermama and Kihara Inc

'Singapore Icons Collection' by Supermama and Kihara Inc for Democratic Society at Tokyo Designers Week.

(Image credit: Ali Morris)

Supermama and Kihara Inc

'Singapore Icons Collection' by Supermama and Kihara Inc for Democratic Society at Tokyo Designers Week.

(Image credit: Ali Morris)

Origami Light

Designed by Tokyo-based design firm Valo, the 'Origami Light' lampshades are handmade by Japanese craftsmen using traditional origami techniques to rework metal plates of copper and brass and black painted steel

(Image credit: press)

Washlet integrated toilet

Japan's popular washlet integrated toilet, the Toto Neorest, celebrated its 20th anniversary with a creative new look courtesy of Torafu Architects, Noriko Hashida, Asao Tokolo and Mai Miyake

(Image credit: press)

Gigantic toilet roll

The installation comprised a gigantic toilet roll, video installation and light-activated poetry reflected in toilet bowls

(Image credit: press)

Sparkling Bubbles

In the Aoyama shopping area, close to Tokyo Designers Week, 800 suspended acrylic balls decorated the ceiling of an exhibition titled Any Tokyo as part of an installation by architect Emmanuelle Moureaux called 'Sparkling Bubbles'. The work, made specifically for the show, was designed to celebrate the launch of Thomas Meyerhoffer's new 'Heritage Glass' for Coca-Cola on a pedestal below.

(Image credit: Ali Morris)

A table

'Tensegrity' table by AuthaGraph at Any Tokyo.

(Image credit: Ali Morris)

Layered Wood

'Layered Wood' bench by Fumie Shibata and Sakai Sangyo at Any Tokyo.

(Image credit: Ali Morris)

The studio

'Clouds' and 'Wood' glassware by Outofstock for Clear Edition & Gallery at Any Tokyo. The pieces were made in collaboration with glass blowers in the heart of the Bavarian forest. Based in a workshop retreat in the forest, the studio produced a series of glass forms inspired by items found within their surroundings, such as bark, branches, snow, dried leaves.

(Image credit: Ali Morris)

The Weight Of Blue

'The Weight Of Blue' limited edition vessels by Outofstock for Clear Edition & Gallery at Any Tokyo.

(Image credit: Ali Morris)

Kinesis 3D

'Kinesis' 3D printed jewellery by Daniel Widrig at Any Tokyo.

(Image credit: Ali Morris)

The lights

'Minamo' lights by Vitro at Any Tokyo.

(Image credit: Ali Morris)

Storage boxes

 'Koloro-wagon' stackable storage boxes by Torafu Architects at Any Tokyo.

(Image credit: Ali Morris)

Lumiosf lamps

'Lumiosf' lamps by Max Gunawan and Ark Trading at Any Tokyo.

(Image credit: Ali Morris)

Hiroshima chair

'Hiroshima' chair by Maruni at Isetan department store during Tokyo Designers Week.

(Image credit: Norio Kidera)

Outdoor exhibition

Kogakuin University's outdoor exhibition, 'Ephemeral Architecture' is a space comprised of delicate white fabric strips leading to a central open dome. The design concept is intended to emphasize the future potential of architecture to allow light to permeate space

(Image credit: press)

The exterior

The exterior of the installation

(Image credit: press)

Garden bottle cap

Back at the main fair, Shige Aoki transformed empty plastic PET bottles into non-liquid containers with his innovative Fresco Garden bottle cap

(Image credit: press)

HOOK blends high

Norwegian product designer Bjørn Bye's transportable HOOK blends high functionality with ultra-light portability

(Image credit: Colin Eick/HOOK)

The credit card

The credit card-sized device weighs 3.7 grams and holds up to 5kg

(Image credit: Colin Eick/HOOK)

The skyscraper

Inspired by this year's 'Going in search of design' theme at Tokyo Designers Week, architect Ryuji Fujimura's 'Midtown Dungeon' is an outdoor maze based on the grid design of Manhattan with a central 'skyscraper' and intended to integrate the experience of space with our five senses

(Image credit: Ryuji Fujimura)

Electrical power

The future product compact motor unicycle by Toyo Institute of Art & Design was designed to unlock using fingerprint authentication and unfold when you turn on the power. Users turn by shifting their weight from side to side; electrical power is generated by the tire's revolution

(Image credit: Toyo Institute)

The chair

'510' chair from the Chosier Collection by Ciguë at Cibone

(Image credit: Ciguë)

Stacked cabinets

Stacked cabinets from the Chosier Collection by Ciguë at Cibone

(Image credit: Ciguë)

The cabinets

A detail of the cabinets

(Image credit: press)

The cabinet

'Type 01 - C' cabinet from the Chosier Collection by Ciguë at Cibone

(Image credit: Ciguë)

Catherine Shaw is a writer, editor and consultant specialising in architecture and design. She has written and contributed to over ten books, including award-winning monographs on art collector and designer Alan Chan, and on architect William Lim's Asian design philosophy. She has also authored books on architect André Fu, on Turkish interior designer Zeynep Fadıllıoğlu, and on Beijing-based OPEN Architecture's most significant cultural projects across China.