Creative gems on display as Tokyo Designers Week goes populist
Another week, another design festival. But does this proliferation of events across Asia spell the death of the creative launch pads they represented a few years ago? If this month's Tokyo Designers Week (TDW) 2013 - once considered the epitome of good design - is anything to go by, the future looks bleak.
The annual event, in its 28th year, has been rebranded into a "creative festival", adding art and music tailored with a keen commercial eye for the local market. Expanding the notion of design is commendable but not when it means overpowering or, in the case of Tokyo, replacing creative displays with number-generating spaces such as a British beer garden.
There were, however, still a few creative gems on show, most notably the creative collaboration between Japanese toilet manufacturer TOTO, Torafu Architects, Noriko Hashida, Asao Tokolo and Mai Miyake, to mark the 20th anniversary of phenomenally popular Washlet integrated Neorest toilet. The exhibition included a gigantic toilet roll, toilet bowls reflecting light-activated poetry and graphic designs for the bathroom of the future.
While furniture design is usually a TDW highlight, this year there were only a few worth noting: Outofstock's Pikku birch wood furniture range stood out for its practical expandable design and understated Nordic style, while designer Takayuki Kawai's efficient combination of emergency helmet and modern chair drew attention, not least because of a strong quake on the opening day.
Other innovative furniture offerings included Bordbar's reimagining of the classic airline trolley as storage for the home or office. The series includes cocktail cabinets, a mini-library and a mobile bathroom cabinet in patterns ranging from seasonal to pop art.
As usual, eco-design products abounded, with award-winning Tokyo designer Shige Aoki's Fresco Garden, a sleek but practical dispenser-container cap for plastic bottles, a favourite. Meanwhile, Masuo Fujimura of Fujimura Design Studio combined a rug and furniture to minimise wasted space with his Turf Rug Lounger and Tokyo-based design studio YOY presented an innovative chair that looks like a painting but which stretches when sat upon.
Happily, the Japanese predilection for combining tradition and contemporary design was still visible; perhaps best illustrated with Kunio Takada's Mokume Gane wedding rings - made from a single block of metal and created using traditional techniques from the Edo era to create a woodgrain look.
Tokyo-based design firm Valo's copper, brass and black steel lamps also translated ancient skills to the modern day home. The contemporary designs are handmade by Japanese craftsmen using traditional origami techniques.
Futuristic notions of design were also on show with "Slack Circuit" by Alex Knezo and Akinori Hamada of Tokyo-based studio_01 the most intriguing. The duo created an ethereal, curtain-like space in a recycled container using transparent string manipulated to change the size and shape of the space. Nearby Kogakuin University's outdoor exhibition, "Ephemeral Architecture", proved a hit. The space, made up of delicate white fabric strips, leads to a central open dome and is intended to emphasise the potential of architecture to allow light to permeate space.
In satellite exhibitions held around the city, the real creative highlight was Klein Dytham architecture's "elephant in the grass", which celebrated the 80th anniversary of Alvar Aalto's iconic Stool 60. The classic stool was reinterpreted in five new heights as blades of grass placed around Stephanie Quayle's elephant sculpture at Ginza's Dover Street Market.