Keiji Ashizawa should probably be a house hold name. Not only is he both a highly acclaimed architect, furniture designer and creative director but he also played a major role in the inception of Ishinomaki Laboratory – a DIY furniture workshop established in 2011 that helped rebuild the Ishinomaki community after the tsunami.
I first stumbled upon Keiji Ashizawa’s work earlier this year when I discovered the Frama Sutoa shelf. I was captivated immediately by its clean lines and practical nature and was desperate to find more of this remarkably humble and elegant design. To do this, I needed to look no further than Ashizawa’s Tokyo based architecture and product design studio Keiji Ashizawa Design.
After working for ten years in both architecture and steel fabrication, Ashizawa formed his studio in 2005, keeping in mind his core values of good design; functionality, honesty and longevity in both the design and materials. His timeless design philosophies appear prevalently in all his work from simple stools with intuitive storage to smooth steel flat pack furniture. The importance of practicality is never underestimated.
When I spoke with Ashizawa he explained this crucial element of his work: “When you put something on [a] shelf you usually have to think about how to organize it or how to lay it out. But, Sutoa already [has] a hierarchy so it helps you organise.
“It's not a coincidence that the design is practical. My main concern when making furniture is to get the design right. Good design is always functional and logical in many ways.”
Ashizawa’s work is technically impressive and his skills in the area of steel fabricating shine through when you examine his inventive joints. In much of his work, joints are formed without the need for additional components and fit together like puzzle pieces rather than relying on mechanical fixings. Ashizawa’s 2011 side table Tre is a perfect example of his non-conventional, stunning joints.
This intricate design has caught the attention of the design world, specifically in Scandinavia. Ashizawa attributes this to the fact that Japan and Scandinavia share similar design culture and principles: “As cultures, both of us have a lot of wood. We historically have wooden architecture so there are many carpenters who can handle wood as a material. Also both places have good craft culture.”
Ashizawa’s success in Scandinavia ranges from collaborations with smaller brands like Frama to international Swedish brand IKEA. But when designing for different brands, Ashizawa is always careful to stay true to his design core. “I try to keep my style and process the same regardless of who I’m designing for, but the way companies collaborate with designers can be quite different. But the most important thing is to understand each other. Frama and IKEA are quite different companies but they like my aesthetic and ideas so we work well together.
While his work with IKEA has aided in making refined and honest design more accessible, his work establishing Ishinomaki Laboratory really takes his contributions to design attainability to the next level. The unique space started out in 2011 as a workshop for local people to rebuild their community. But today, Ishinomaki Laboratory is pushing the DIY concept forward, expanding the principles of DIY design and establishing itself as the world’s first DIY design label. For Ashizawa, Ishinomaki Laboratory is one of his most important projects as he says it extends his ability as a designer and his interaction with those who want to be part of the design and architecture community.
Ashizawa’s work with Ishinomaki Laboratory reflects heavily where he sees the future of design going: “More people making their furniture by themselves, more people appreciating the furniture that is made in the area they live and more people customizing their existing furniture.”
If you want to check out more of Keiji Ashizawa’s work, check out his website here or follow him on Instagram @keijiashizawa.