Photos by Kento Mori

Questions by Linda Moers

 

Giving people a small “!” moment. his is the first idea encountered by visitors to the nendo website, seeking to explore the philosophy behind the design studio’s work. The exclamation mark symbolically flags that moment where we stop dead as a natural reaction when confronted by something inexplicable and compelling. The dictionary describes an exclamation mark as usually used after an interjection or exclamation to […] show emphasis. Translated into nendo, the concept is like a stroll down an endless road where different nendo works surprise us at every corner, physical results of a creative exuberance that deliver those special small moments of “!” . They may span cleverly crafted window displays, the one product amidst a whole storeful that captures our full attention, a chair that we never want to get up from again, exhibitions whose very concept delights and amazes us before we have even seen a single work, or a stunningly designed house that brings us to an involuntary stop of wonderment. „We’d like the people who’ve encountered nendo’s designs to feel these small ,!‘ moments intuitively.“ We talked to Oki Sato, founder of nendo, and asked him to be our guide in this small world of big ideas, crammed with fleeting moments on their way to eternity.

 

Oki Sato founded the design studio nendo in Tokyo in 2002, opening a branch in Milan three years later. At nendo, approximately 30 designers develop and create design projects spanning every form of discipline, including product, interior, furniture, exhibition, lighting and graphic design. nendo’s goal is to collect special moments of everyday life and translate them into a form that is easy to understand and given the lengthy list of awards, it is clearly extremely successful at doing so. The customer roster includes numerous famous brands that place their trust in nendo’s unique perspective, among them Flos, ­Cappellini, Fritz Hansen, Shiseido, YKK and SNCF.

 

Born in Toronto, Canada, in 1977, Oki Sato changed continents to study architecture at Waseda University in Tokyo. By founding and heading nendo, his first design studio, Oki Sato has expanded his world with an interdisciplinary team that work with him to create outstanding design projects. His array of awards and accolades has grown alongside, including The 100 Most Respected Japanese, Designer of the Year, Interior Designer of the Year, Change Maker of the Year and many more personal nominations by international juries.

 

 

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Interview
 

 

 

Oki Sato, to retrace: there is always a reason why we ultimately choose a profession. Do you remember the moment when you decided to follow the path of design?

oki sato

After studying architecture, I was wondering where to go from there. Then I went to Milan with some friends in 2002, and was so excited to see that everyone was designing things so freely that I decided to start nendo and return to Milan the following year as a designer, not a visitor.

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We have used the term path of design because it’s impossible to divide your world into individual disciplines. Since establishing nendo, you have worked in various design fields, from graphics, lighting and exhibitions to furniture. Are there any boundaries for nendo?

oki sato

No, because regardless of what one designs, the design process remains the same.

Of course, there will be a number of technical differences between designing a small piece of chocolate and a large interior space, but in both cases, there will be living human beings coming into contact with the designs.
The goal of eliciting an emotional reaction within those people doesn’t change in the slightest.

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The word nendo means free-form clay a soft, malleable substance. The mission of nendo aims to reconstitute the everyday by collecting and reshaping the moments into something that’s easy to understand. Could you give us a specific example from the projects for which you’ve lately been nominated by Wallpaper in the categories Best new public building and Best new grooming pro­duct that shows us what this actually means?

oki sato

We received the Best new public building nomination for CoFuFun, a master plan for the station plaza at Tenri Station in the southwest region of Japan. I’ll describe it in depth to give you an idea of the broad scope of the ideas involved.

 

The plan for the 7,700-square-­metre area includes cycle rentals, a cafe and other shops as well as an information kiosk, play area, outdoor stage and meeting area. The project goal was to encourage local community revitalisation by providing a space for events, communication of tourist information and leisure facilities for local resi­dents.

 

Tenri’s urban boundaries include a number of ancient Japanese tombs known as cofun. The cofun are beautiful and distinctive, yet also blend into the spaces where everyday life goes on in the city. The plaza landscape, richly punctuated by several of these cofun, is a representation of the characteristic local geography in the Nara Basin, surrounded on all sides by mountains.

 

In the construction technique used to create the plaza’s round cofun structures, pieces of pre-cast concrete mould resembling a huge pizza were fitted together. Because pre-cast concrete moulds are produced at the factory and then assembled on site, the resulting structures are precise and the same mould can be used multiple times to maximise cost-effectiveness. The pre-formed parts are pieced together like building blocks, using the same massive cranes used to build bridges. Large spaces can be formed without the use of columns or beams, and because of the round shape the well-balanced structures offer stability against forces applied from any direction.

 

The cofuns’ different levels serve a variety of purposes: they’re stairs, but also benches for sitting, fences to enclose playing children, roofs sheltering the cafe and ­sta­ge, shelves for displaying products, and integral parts of the night-time illumination which floods the plaza with light. This variety creates an environment that encourages visitors to explore and spend time in different spaces within the plaza, rather than limiting their movement to one place. It’s an ambiguous space that’s entirely a cafe, a playground and a massive piece of furniture all at once.

 

Guideposts and signboards feature gentle curves similar to those of the cofun, and are coloured a dark grey that creates a natural contrast while still effectively fitting in with the surrounding area. They are also arranged at four different heights according to their function, in order to minimise noise levels. A play space for children, a lounge and study space for reading books, and a stage that can be used for concerts or public screenings have all been added to the meeting area, and Tenri souvenirs can be purchased at a newly designed shop next to the space.

 

Every design was created to ensure that the materials and colouring of the interiors matched those of the plaza as closely as possible. Furniture and fixtures made using wood from Nara Prefecture and designed around a cofun theme create a sense of uniformity with the plaza. The plaza’s name, CoFuFun, combines the main design motif, the cofun, with a colloquial Japanese expression. Fufun means happy, unconscious humming; the design for the plaza is aimed at creating a sociable atmosphere that unconsciously leads visitors to hum happily either literally or metaphorically while they’re there.

 

The Latin alphabet rendition of the name, CoFuFun, also brings in the co- of cooperation and community. as well as of course fun itself. The result is a name whose Japanese and Latin spellings mean similar things, so that foreign visitors to the plaza will ­also understand it in the same way.

 

We received the Best grooming product award for naturaglacé. This was a reissue project to cele­brate the 10th anniversary of the organic cosmetic brand. The brand’s unique selling point lies in its raw materials, which are of 100 percent natural origin. The products are manufactured in ­Japan, are safe to use and are gentle enough for even babies’ skin. Our challenge was to communicate those strengths and characteristics more effectively.

 

 

In the reissue, 11 colours occurring in nature and related to the raw materials in the products are used to communicate their value. Brush patterns of these colours were randomly applied to the packaging, and each package has a unique expression by modifying the size and layout of the patterns.

 

There are 10 patterns for the colour palette, to distinguish the different categories of products. Warm grey with matte finish was chosen as the base colour of the containers, to avoid halation of the soft colours on the outer box. Compact cases for foundation and colour items in the series have a slightly hollowed indent on the edge, evoking the image of a painter’s palette with an aperture for the fingers. In this way, by borrowing nature’s gifts and inviting customers to apply them to themselves like a watercolour artist painting a canvas, a design conveying the pleasure of applying makeup was created.

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