Wallpaper* + Lexus

Lexus Design Award &
Lexus Design Event

A showcase of ‘YET’

The 2017 Lexus Design Event marked Lexus’ 10th immersive showcase at Milan Design Week, the world’s most significant design fair. Having established itself as a critical creative platform over the past decade, the Lexus Design Event is not only a carefully curated immersive space but also a gallery for the winning submissions from the annual Lexus Design Award, which fosters (and marvels at) up-and-coming design talent. Both the Lexus Design Event and Award represent Lexus’ ongoing quest to facilitate ground-breaking design thinking. They are an extension of the luxury automaker’s longstanding passion for design and innovation.

At the six-day design fair held at La Triennale di Milano – a prominent design and art museum in the city’s Parco Sempione, Lexus celebrated its tenth consecutive appearance by showcasing this year’s overarching theme of ‘YET’ – a philosophy that inspires and drives Lexus to push the boundaries of creativity by fusing seemingly incompatible elements. It says ‘Don’t compromise; harmonise.’ The resulting synergy sparks breakthroughs – often surprising, always novel.

Created by architect, designer and MIT professor Neri Oxman and her research and design team, The Mediated Matter Group (MMG), the Lexus Design Event’s feature installation ‘Ancient Yet Modern’ paid homage to futuristic elegance – equal parts meditative, thanks to hypnotic lighting, and intrigue, through innovative glass 3D printing techniques. Oxman was specially tasked with creating an immersive installation that reflected this year’s multifaceted theme. ‘We attempted to express “YET” in different ways,’ she said. ‘Through the lens of light, through the lens of glass, and the through the lens of experience.’ At 3m in height each, the architectural installation was over two years in the making. The use of glass (an ancient material) was a brave case of 3D printing technology scaled from a model that could be held in the hand to three towering columns in the exhibition space.

The interactive, cylindrical glass structure theatrically casts mesmeric light across the walls and floor. At a preview of the installation, Oxman gave special thanks to the MMG, who specialise in the intersection of digital fabrication, materials science and synthetic biology. ‘When you deal with a “YET” project, that brings together seemingly disparate fields, disparate disciplines, you need a “YET” kind of team,’ she said. Together, they created a space that challenged dated conceptions of ‘luxury’, presenting a dynamic, mysterious setting that stimulated discussion and excited the senses.

‘YET’ spaces explored

The Lexus Design Event space was divided into four distinct areas, arranged to follow the naturally curved shape of the museum, encouraging visitors to navigate their own design journey. We began at the beginning in Area 1 – ‘Ancient Yet Modern’, – a space dedicated to Oxman’s future-seeking installation, where time stands still and history is reduced to a mere moment.

Area 2 brought us to the Lexus Design Award. Here, we saw presentations of eight Panel and four Prototype Finalists’ work. Thanks to this year’s broad theme, the display was a mélange of design curios. It offered visitors everything from a child’s musical instrument using vegetables (‘Player’s Pflute: Vegetable Yet a Musical Instrument’ by Jia Wu, mentored by Max Lamb) and a rug with nearly endless design possibilities (‘Structural Colour: Static Yet Changeable’ by Jessica Fügler, mentored by Elena Manferdini) to a Tardis-like suitcase that can contains all you need to live (‘Having Nothing Yet Possessing Everything’ by Ahran Won, mentored by Neri & Hu) and a light diffusion array that creates a unique pixilation effect (PIXEL ‘Light Yet Shadow’ by Hiroto Yoshizoe, mentored by Snarkitecture). Arranged on plinths, the displays celebrated forward-thinking ideas, alternative problem solving and, most of all, emerging global talent. Only one of these prototypes would go on to be named Grand Prix Winner.

Area 3, entitled ‘Static Yet Dynamic’, shined a spotlight on the Lexus UX Concept Car, which debuted at the Paris Motor Show last year. The installation promotes Lexus ‘Brave Design’ – a concept that aims to explore production from differing viewpoints, in order to reach beyond the obvious, and in doing so, discover the unexpected. If Lexus ‘Brave Design’ is about being adventurous, and thinking outside of the box, this installation – a projected, interactive vision of the UX Concept Car – embodies it. Otherworldly images of the UX shifted in and out of focus depending on the viewing angle as guests meandered through, round and underneath.

The final area, ‘Retrospective’ paused to reflect on ten fruitful years of Lexus history at Milan Design Week and its commitment to design via inventive hanging screens showcasing each years’ iteration. Take the Design Event’s collaboration with Japanese design stalwart Nendo in 2008, for example, which saw the two brands draw on Lexus’ longstanding ‘YET’ design philosophy. Using the crystal structure of diamonds as a motif, Nendo and Lexus co-designed a ‘flexible but durable’ projected installation that fused these opposing concepts.

Area 2 ' Lexus Design Award'

YET’s Grand Prix Winner

Shortly before the exhibition space was opened to the public, Lexus International announced the Grand Prix Winner of the 2017 Lexus Design Award at an exclusive event to an audience of prominent designers, press and senior Lexus executives. Lexus International president Yoshihiro Sawa honoured the Grand Prix Winner Hiroto Yoshizoe and his PIXEL design.

The Design Award’s distinguished panel of judges and mentors narrowed down 1,152 entries to a tight group of 12 finalists. Of these, four were selected to go into prototype development under the careful guidance of Lexus Design Award mentors. Supported by Daniel Arsham and Alex Mustonen of renowned New York-based collaborative practice Snarkitecture, Yoshizoe’s forward-thinking lighting design prototype caught the judging panel’s discerning eye, for its manifold practical applications and intelligent embodiment of the ‘YET’ theme.

This year's Lexus Design Award Grand Prix Winner, PIXEL by Hiroto Yoshizoe

PIXEL takes the idea of ‘light yet shadow’ as its basis and has origins in shoji – a traditional Japanese fitting, often made of translucent paper, used to transform light as it passes between external and internal environments. Think of the slim, architectural wall partitions that stylishly adorn Japanese homes, serving to delineate (yet not completely separate) a space. PIXEL comprises an A-framed building block that disrupts and bends any light source shined upon it, creating a diffused shadow. Lined side by side, a grid of these units creates a pixelated effect when light passes through it – something typically reserved for digital screens. The result is pixel perfect. At once atmospheric and artful – with myriad uses in contemporary design and architecture.

The beauty of PIXEL is also found in its deceptive simplicity. ‘What you see looks very digital and therefore complicated, but what’s happening is a very traditional, analogue technique of reflection,’ Yoshizoe explains. ‘Simply put, the light enters the structure, reflects inside and is outputted – appearing digital.’

True to his shoji inspiration, Yoshizoe began testing his concept with paper, carefully noting how light reflected and interacted with the surface before he was eventually paired with Snarkitecture as a prototype finalist in November 2016. Through a series of correspondences and a trip to the Snarkitecture studio in New York, Yoshizoe experimented with a variety of different materials and 3D shapes to fine-tune what would become the final PIXEL prototype. What’s more, the dedicated mentorship from Snarkitecture prepared Yoshizoe for presenting in Milan, offering invaluable insight into defining PIXEL’s identity in potential commercial applications.

The 2017 Lexus DesignAward's finalists, mentors, and judges

Would PIXEL become a consumer product bought off the shelf? Would it be strictly reserved for creating art installations? What about use as an architectural material? These were just some of the questions that Snarkitecture guided Yoshizoe through. As well as looking this far into the project’s future, Yoshizoe explains how his seasoned mentors helped him stay ahead of the curve on a day-to-day basis – forecasting any design-minded stumbling blocks. ‘They always foresaw what was to come next - they knew the issues.’

It was the unique, one-on-one mentoring opportunity that initially propelled Yoshizoe to enter the Lexus Design Award – and it exceeded expectations. ‘My mentor and the panels’ precise advice throughout the process was invaluable,’ says Yoshizoe. ‘Snarkitecture were very helpful in figuring out how many pixels would work, and PIXEL’s real-world potential. They helped me explore the idea that the prototype could work in multiple environments, scenarios and even time settings. At night, for example, PIXEL could be used as a wall of a building, where the bright light inside could seep and reflect on the outside space.’

In commenting on what allows for a young designer to see their ideas become reality, Sawa noted that a clear starting vision is key. ‘The first idea has to be very strong, simple and unique,’ he said. ‘Otherwise, production and market requirements will change [a concept’s] characteristics and weaken it. Starting from a strong proposal allows you to maintain [your] message.’ A point that can be seen in PIXEL’s journey from conception to this year’s Lexus Design Award Grand Prix Winner.

Lexus and the ‘YET’ Philosophy

Spacious yet streamlined. Exhilarating yet environmentally friendly. Sporty yet comfortable. The Lexus design philosophy is built upon concepts like these, where ‘yet’ is the pivot holding two seemingly conflicting elements together in harmony.

It’s a simple concept with an ever-extending reach, explains Spiros Fotinos, the global head of brand management and global marketing at Lexus International. ‘When you think about it from a broader perspective, you notice instances of “yet” happening throughout our lives.’

Fotinos travels extensively and cites airport terminals as an area where ‘yet’ concepts have the potential to launch into action. ‘On the one hand, you want to process people very quickly, but on the other, you want them to have a comfortable, engaging experience. Maybe you want to sell them things. Only a few airport terminals have struck this illusive, interesting balance. It’s not easy to do.’

Despite these tricky nuances, creating a successful ‘yet’ archetype seems to come quite naturally to Lexus. Take the F performance range. ‘You can put them on a track and have this incredible racing experience’, Fotinos offers, ‘then straight after, you can drive to work like nothing happened.’

The idea of ‘yet’ influences not only the products Lexus produces, but the events they curate and the way they work. In other words, ‘yet’ is built into their DNA. It makes perfect sense that this year’s Lexus Design Award has chosen Yet as it’s over arching theme.

In an open call earlier this year, Lexus International’s president, Yoshihiro Sawa, asked up-and-coming designers to ‘create a whole new value and experience by harmonising incompatible elements’. He asked designers to ‘think “yet” – and challenge the common paradigm.’

The Past

The Lexus Design Award has a growing history for enticing emerging designers to submit ideas, thanks to highly imaginative award themes. Since 2013, the LDA has presented themes on everything from ‘Curiosity’ to ‘Motion’ to ‘Anticipation’.

As we’ve seen over the last half-decade, the shortlisted designers continually succeed in interpreting, manipulating and stretching the theme with poise. Take the ‘Iris’ lamp, which won a Lexus Design Award in 2013 – and just happens to be one of Fotinos’ personal, archival favourites. Devised by German designer Sebastian Scherer, this hand-blown glass lamp was brushed with a shimmering iridescent coating. Delicate as a soap bubble, the colourful sphere incites intrigue in anyone who looks at it, beautifully addressing the theme of Curiosity.

What’s more, each theme is universally applicable. This year, ‘YET’ has piqued the minds of designers from 63 different countries. In part, Fotinos puts this widespread engagement down to the global relevancy of the three-letter enigma, which allows for countless mediums, materials and aesthetics. ‘You can only imagine the range of work we saw from all the different cultures; the spectrum of ideas was spectacular.’

Sebastian Scherer IRIS

The Future

Neri Oxman said of her ‘Ancient Yet Modern’ installation, it’s ‘both grounded and balanced to the earth, yet suspended, stretching up to the stars.’ This idea of endless possibilities mixed with down to earth, practical applications encapsulates this year’s Lexus Design Award, which saw ambitious ideas realised in practical settings. After all, with its Design Award, Lexus are aiming to cultivate the designs (and nurture the designers) of the future. This simply couldn’t happen without the raw talent of the outstanding entrants, and the precise and generous mentoring they received.

Lexus Yet, Created by Neri Oxman and The Mediated Matter Group, MIT Media Lab in collaboration with Lexus (Image:The Mediated Matter Group)

Just as the ‘YET’ philosophy permeates Lexus’ working practice, so does the idea of mentorship. In its factories, Lexus employ Takumi, an ancient Japanese concept that roughly translates as ‘highly respected, industry-leading artisans’. ‘Part of their role is to teach the younger craftsmen the inside elements of the trade,’ Fotinos says. ‘This approach to mentorship is personally very important to Lexus.’ This pride in mentorship spreads from the factory to the boardroom. ‘All of us take pride in being able to support and help the younger members of our organisation. We give them the space to go out and learn. Even from a management perspective, it’s very close to us.’

For this year’s award, Lexus has worked tirelessly its philosophies and practices in its eponymous Design Award. Encouraged by Yet, the projects fizz with all the internal dichotomies, tensions, and excitements common to design greats. Although Yoshizoe’s PIXEL ultimately sped into the lead, snatching the grand-prix title, Lexus has convinced us that the journey – from inspiration, to creation, to mentorship – is the most important part and as Yoshihiro Sawa, president of Lexus International encourages: ‘By challenging ourselves to combine elements that at first seem incompatible, we are able to ignite our creative potential and explore new frontiers in design and technology.’

Learn more about Lexus Design Award
Learn more about Lexus Design Event