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Ishinomaki Laboratory: Design For A Good Cause

In his award winning practice, Keiji Ashizawa is constantly in search of new solutions for modern day living. A case in point would be Ishinomaki Laboratory, a facility incepted to aid the local community after the 3.11 earthquake. Joanna Kawecki reports.

Ishinomaki Laboratory: Design For A Good Cause

Photos: Ishinomaki Laboratory

It is impossible to define Tokyo-based architect and designer Keiji Ashizawa’s design practice, which ranges from award-winning architectural designs of homes and renovations, to furniture, lighting and industrial design. Inspired by his father to enter the field of architecture, (his father was also an architect) Ashizawa established his own practice Keiji Ashizawa Design in 2005.

The research and knowledge of various materials is an important driving force for Ashizawa in his work. His Tokyo-based studio and office over-flows with samples of wood and metal. In fact, it was Ashizawa’s interest in the local material of steel, that encouraged him to approach the renowned steel area in Tokyo’s Nippori to begin two years of steelwork and become an ongoing member of the Super Robot steel furniture workshop.

Portrait of Keiji Ashizawa

Ashizawa thrives on introducing new thinking for existing design problems, explaining that he “likes finding solutions for current living”, and challenging the norm with a fresh approach. His work is minimalist in materials and design, with a Japanese sensibility and intelligence in function and form.

His work has also been exhibited at global fairs such as DesignMiami/, Milan Salone del Mobile, and PAD London. He was awarded the Australian National Architecture Institute Award for his collaborative design of ‘Wall House’, with Australian architect Peter Stutchbury Architects. ‘Ellipse Light’, a steel and aluminium sphere comprised of “simple geometries and the work of gravity to create a sense of movement” was created for limited-edition design collective Broached Commissions.

Ishinomaki Stool Kit by Keiji Ashizawa for Ishinomaki Laboratory

Recently, Ashizawa was invited to create a collection for IKEA, titled ‘PS Collection’ with Triangular Leaning Wall Shelf, providing a solution to Japan’s confined and unpredictable, non-symmetrical living and working spaces, with affordable Do-It-Yourself design options.

Kobo Table by Keiji Ashizawa for Ishinomaki Laboratory

Perhaps it is Ashizawa’s forward-thinking and pro-active Do-It-Yourself mentality that lead to the idea and solution titled ‘Ishinomaki Laboratory’. The independently owned and operated project was conceptualised in Ashizawa’s surrounding community in Japan after the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. The need for immediate furniture encouraged the idea for affordable and simple designs that are conscious in form and function.

Ishinomaki Laboratory

Instigated by a previous client whose bar was located in Ishinomaki and destroyed following the tsunami, Ashizawa was introduced to Takhiro Chiba, a previous sushi chef turned woodworking craftsman. Their partnership to help the local community of Ishinomaki soon began with the inception of Ishinomaki Laboratory.

Flamingo Series by Koichi Futatsumata for Ishinomaki Laboratory

With a permanent workshop located in Ishinomaki, the DIY concept started off as a common utility space offered free of charge for locals to conduct their own repair work, with materials provided by volunteers who are mostly designers in Tokyo. The facility also lent its hand in restoring local stores.

Over time, the idea grew into a globally-connected project that invites international designers such as Tomas Alonso and Julian Patterson, to locals Torafu Architects, and even Keiji Ashizawa’s designs pay homage to the area: “Ishinomaki High Stool”, and the “Ishinomaki Stool Kit” can be assembled at home.

AA High Stool by TORAFU ARCHITECTS Inc. for Ishinomaki Laboratory

Some of the core activities of the facility also include conducting design skills workshops and technical trainings for enthusiasts, students and children, with an underlying aim to build a better future. Benches manufactured as part of the workshops were used for outdoor movie screenings during summer in the year of the disaster, following which, in autumn, global furniture manufacturer Herman Miller came onboard and ran workshops for the locals.

BOY by Mute for Ishinomaki Laboratory

Described as a ‘laboratory’, Ashizawa explains the name as a hub for “creating ideas that are solutions and on-going experiments by various creative thinkers.”

Awarded the renowned Good Design Award in 2012, Ishinomaki Laboratory is a new business model that puts the power back into the consumer and the community. “Combined with unlimited design flexibility, the ultimate goal is to energise people and society – and life as a whole,” says Ashizawa.


Watch the video on Ishinomaki Laboratory here.

Ishinomaki Laboratory

Keiji Ashizawa

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