1. An Address in New York

Are you living in New York now?

Yes. In 1977, I went from Fukuoka to Holland. Including the time studying for my graduate degree, I was there 9 and a half years. Then in 2007, I moved to New York for the first time. So it has already been 10 years.


Yes, OMA for the whole time.


Well, I moved to New York to become the director here. There were so many changes to get used to, but now I'm finally feeling settled.

I see... I really like New York.

Oh, is that right?

Yes, I've been many times.

What do you like about it?

Well, it's refreshing. You feel the energy...It has so much to offer, museums, musicals and jazz. The city feels alive...I was there for 9/11.

I was too.

At that time I was a volunteer for “Save the Children” .

What's that?

You haven’t heard of them? Save The Children.

Save The Children? It rings a bell, but...

It’s quite famous in the U.S. I was at their head office in New York and left about 30 minutes early to avoid the rush hour crowds. It was the right decision. If I hadn't left at that time I would have been caught up in the disaster. Even though it wasn't that building, who knows what could've happened if I hadn't left early?

(A short silence while looking at exchanged business cards)

What!? This is the same building as ours!

Really? *Laughs.*

Number 180

What floor?

The Thirteenth

Come see us sometime. I can't believe it's the same place. *Laughs.* There are lots of architects in the buildings around there.

Yeah, there are. Originally many of the buildings were printing factories, so they were very strongly built. Now most have been subdivided and are used by creative firms.


2. Fostering Opportunities for Young Architects

So why did you choose the Netherlands?

I lived in the U.S. for a short time when I was a child because of my parents' work.


I lived in Boston. Even though I could speak English, tuition in the U.S. was very high. I thought about applying for university in England, but I wanted to go somewhere that wasn't an English-speaking country. I felt I couldn't differentiate myself by going to the same places as everyone else. Strangely enough, most people knew little about the Netherlands. I thought it would be interesting.... so I went.

That makes sense. Is it a good place for architecture?

Just at that time, the Netherlands was beginning to attract attention. Rem Koolhaas was becoming famous around the world, and he worked at OMA, the same company I later joined.

Is OMA a Dutch company?

Yes, but I didn't go to the Netherlands because of OMA. My goal was to go to graduate school. Everyone went to England or the U.S. for their graduate degrees. I felt I would have just created more competition for myself If I had studied in those countries, and I thought it would be more interesting to go somewhere different. When I think about it now, it was an easy decision.

I'm sure it wasn't easy. But it worked out well.
But it worked out well.

It worked out well. OMA designs buildings that skillfully blend aspects of design and academics. I think in Japan there are two types of firms, ones that foster the growth of talented young employees and ones that don't. This is the case even with the more illustrious firms. Zaha Hadid, who won the first competition to design the national stadium... She's actually a former OMA employee.

She worked for OMA?

There is a famous architectural school called AA in England. OMA’s Rem Koolhaas and Zaha Hadid are both alumni.


I thought that I wanted to go to a firm that produced talented young employees like that.

That makes sense. It's rare for architects in Japan to become famous after they start out working independently.

Japan has a culture of lifetime employment. After leaving a respected firm, I feel it is almost expected, that you will continue to produce work in the same style as the firm you left. In a teacher-disciple type of way. The opposite is true abroad, you would likely be criticized for doing that. It's a cultural difference, but firms that foster the growth of talented young employees will always be there, and this is the same for architectural firms all over the world.

But now in Japan there are very few opportunities for young people. Most young architects are living abroad. For them the chances of finding a job in Japan are very slim.

That’s why, no matter how desperate the situation may be, it's likely the tides will turn. I think that leaving Japan creates new opportunities. In the end, nothing will change without the power and will to change the industry itself.

That’s true.

Also, general contractors and construction design organizations build over 90% of houses.


The current situation needs to be changed.

That means, to a certain degree, changing the way the home owners, or the clients of those companies, think...

That’s right! In the U.S. they say it isn't only about educating the architect, but also the client. If clients are architecturally illiterate, there will be no use for talented architects. Change needs to start there. Architecture is still perceived as a difficult and elite profession. We need to create a connection with society by getting more people out there who can talk about architecture. I think people in design associations and advertising firms would be especially good at this.

That's also true. It would be great if there were more competitions for architectural projects too.

Yeah, but in Japan you need experience to even enter most competitions.

People aren't given opportunities.


There aren't many chances for young people in Japan. I think that will result in an increasing exodus of talented young people.

In my case, I finally have good projects in Tokyo and Fukuoka. Even though I left Japan once, in the end I wanted to return. I feel like I want to give something back my country.

It’s easier to be accepted here after making a name for yourself abroad, but it’s hard to say if you could have succeeded in that way if you had only worked in Japan. I think it would have been difficult...

It would've been impossible. *Laughs.*


I’m from the Kyushu countryside, I think I left Japan because I had a kind of intuition. I was born in 1973: the 2nd baby boom generation. You hear about it a lot in the media as being the most competitive era for everything from entrance exams to finding employment. On top of that, it also coincided with the bubble, which burst just when I had entered university. The environment at that time was very pessimistic and that gave rise to the idea of leaving Japan.

I’m from the first baby boom. It seems people from those circumstances have more vitality.


I was born after the war in 1947. Postwar, there was a massive population increase.


People from that time really do have vitality.

They do. They are acclimated to competition. It may be why so many people from my generation went overseas. But in the end, Japanese people always want to return to Japan. I had this vague notion that Japan couldn’t offer me a bright future, and that therefore I just wanted to fit in overseas. Most Japanese people just go to live overseas for two or three years as a status symbol. I left intending to spend my life abroad. I think that’s the difference. If more people stayed abroad for longer, things might start to change.

Companies can’t survive in our industry without a global perspective. For the first time in years, architecture's profile has risen sharply because of the Olympics. It fell off for more than 20 years until if finally leveled off. And now, in the last 6 years it has risen again, but it's highly unlikely that will continue. Actually, I think it can only decline after this. Companies are going to have to go abroad to survive. Despite this, young people aren't venturing out as much as you would expect. I really want more young people to have a stronger desire to go overseas.

For a long time now in Japan, everyone's focus was overseas. I think it's good that our focus has returned to Japan. That being said, I currently teach at a university in the U.S. where there aren't any Japanese students at all.

I heard about that.

Over half of the students at Ivy league schools are Asian. Of those, there may or may not be one Japanese student per year.

So few...

The rest are mainly Chinese, Korean and Taiwanese. Even if it's okay now, I think that in 20 or 30 years, a huge and decisive gap will most definitely appear. Rather than thinking about if things are better abroad or in Japan, I think it's important be open to the option of studying and living abroad. We can’t be globally competitive if we fall into homogeneity.

3. Economic Demands and Decorative Details

I went to New York for the first time 40 years ago.


To do business.

I see.

I brought our merchandise with me to sell there. People at one architectural firm told me our products were as beautiful as jewelry, so I said "Please buy them!" but was told they were too expensive! *Laughs.* I went to many places, not just the U.S., I went all over Europe too. And it was clear that although many of our products were beautifully crafted, at that time they didn't match modern buildings at all. They sort of looked tacky, or tacked on. What do you think?

When money gets tight, architects can’t think about details like that. Things like design deadlines, speed, and the overall flow of a project can be overwhelming, so often there isn't enough time for the decorative aspects of a building. I think that this has to be changed. Architects used to have many opportunities to do interior design, but 21st century architects have very few chances to do interiors for commercial spaces.

That’s too bad.

I guess it shows the degree to which architecture and interior design have become separate spheres of expertise...

Yeah, when I first started working, architects were extremely meticulous about even the smallest details of the buildings they designed. They helped clients choose furniture. Now most architects only do exteriors and don't want to have anything to do with the interior.

Maybe the architects have some responsibility in that respect, but I think financial pressure doesn’t allow architects the time to do those things. They probably wouldn't be allowed to even if they wanted to. Deadlines are so short that there isn't even enough time to design. So, for the client, it ends up being more efficient to hire an experienced interior designer.

That makes sense.

Still, I think the situation in Japan is better than other places. The division of labor has progressed much more overseas. As architecture becomes overwhelmingly commercial, the goals behind building design are changing. I think in the past many public buildings were built with an architect overseeing the whole process, from beginning to end. Now commercial building projects are much more common.

I was hoping to see buildings in Tokyo and Osaka designed by people aspiring to be the next generation of renowned architects. Buildings that architecture lovers from around the world would flock to come see. But most of what's there are just boring normal buildings; they don't really have character. How to you feel about the state of architecture in these cities?

Looking at it in a very positive light, you could say Japan has many neutral buildings. I think it is partly due to the culture of risk avoidance, and also a dislike of things that are different or unique.

I agree. But in the past Japan was so full of unique designs...

That’s right! Until the 80s and 90s there were lots. In Osaka there was Shin Takamatsu, and leading the pack was the Takayaka architectural firm. Though there usually wasn't anything too crazy. By the way, after this I'm going to be giving a lecture, and I was planning to talk about how creative expression drops during times of extended economic stagnation. One example is Mujirushi. It's branded abroad as representing Japanese design, but It only sells colorless plain white products that present an extremely one-dimensional perspective on Japanese culture. I think it’s a great shame that it become accepted abroad as the representation of the Japanese aesthetic.

I feel the same way about UNIQLO.


I think buildings should be built to leave impressions in our minds. Of course, building for commercial or economic purposes is fine, but decades from now those buildings will remain in the heart of the city, and they need to compliment the new buildings that will go up around them. I think we need to design with this in mind.

I think that there aren't many clients who would request such buildings. Mainly because most clients are prohibitively restricted by economic factors.

Of course, a budget needs to be drawn up. The challenge is creating something special within the confines of a budget. I don't need to do the entire building. For example, just the lighting or the lobby. As you said, paying special attention to one area through the division of labor, may be the only economically feasible way. Recently, I have been telling architects they should hire craftsmen to do specialized work. If they don't, those craftsmen and their craft may disappear. This is the biggest problem in Japan. I feel we will soon be in the same situation as the U.S., where there are no skilled craftsmen left.

I think there are parts of Japan that follow that system, but in general, the construction industry does not. Recently, the skill level of general contractors has also really dropped off.


I hear that from industry people who work in Japan. It’s a very sad situation.

4. A Nuanced Fusion of Technology and Craftmanship

(Architect Kohki Hiranuma has joined the conversation as an interviewer)

Shigematsu-san, you've done many large-scale projects, but have you done anything on a residential scale?

I do houses as well as exhibitions, but I usually find myself strangely drawn towards influential urban projects. Most of those are on a larger scale. I take a different aesthetic approach when I work on smaller spaces.

The project you did in Omotesando, for instance.


Right, COACH.

You made such a deep impression in such a tight space by creating something that was small yet had volume. I thought maybe you instinctually prefer to work on a more human-size scale. Is there a philosophy or a technique you use in these situations?

Yeah, I really want to work on that scale, but until now, I haven't really had the opportunity. But I have maintained a very long relationship with the fashion industry.


Yes, I was working for Prada when I got the opportunity from COACH. It was a challenge that pushed me to explore design on a smaller scale, both physically and commercially. Because COACH used to be a... leathermaker?


If you had to call it something. *Laughs.*

At first, they did only wallets. But now they have more than 2000 items in one collection!

2000!? Wow.

That's how dramatically they grew. As a result of this rapid growth, their displays and logos were all mixed up. Every time we did anything, we had to organize all their merchandise before we could get started on branding. At the time, their displays were these cramped wooden shelves. I suggested surrounding and interlacing the entire space with shelves, like a library born from the need to be easily organized. When I looked at the collaborations bridging architecture and fashion in Omotesando and Aoyama, I found there was a disconnect between the interiors and exteriors. Architects did the facades, but the spaces inside were all done by interior designers, or used a brand's bespoke displays. Only Prada had me do both an interior and exterior.


So, even though shelves are usually an interior element. I had the idea of removing the facade and instead extending the interior to the outside. Conceptually, the idea was to incorporate the act of shopping into the aesthetics of the facade.

That's really interesting.

In the fashion business they change and adjust the displays every day. I wanted to create a space where you see the process happening and the people doing it, one that created a means of direct communication. That was my image for the design.

Tateno-san was saying that as contemporary architecture grows in scale, details are increasingly neglected.


A while back, Modric made some beautiful pieces of hardware. They were so detailed!


UNION makes some similar high-quality handles and fittings.

We do.

When you look at and hold a beautifully constructed handle, the details really come out.

They really do.

If you were going to order some exceptionally high-quality metal fixtures from Tateno-san here, what do you suppose you would want to work with?



For example, something subtle?


Of course, something that doesn't stand out too much.

Or, should handles and fittings wear their functional beauty on their surfaces?

It’s a slightly difficult question, but I think both can work. Recently, products incorporating home electronics have become popular. Things like telephones that let you operate an appliance remotely. I'm not saying it's necessarily ideal, but I think it's difficult to evolve in this day and age with beauty, texture and design alone. I think it needs to be approached from both sides. There is no choice but to look at new possibilities from many angles.

As new technologies enter our lives, we also need new designs.

Large evolutionary changes in architecture or design always follow technological advancements. Maybe this will come across as anti-craftsmanship, but with a 3D printer and the necessary information, you can make anything, from simple lines to extremely complex shapes, at the press of a button. As this technology moves forward, there won't be any technical difference between creating something complex or simple. So this may make possible door handles, that until now, could only be made by expert craftsmen because of their extreme complexity. But it isn't yet possible to rely on 3D printers; the technology still requires human hands to complete complex tasks. I think getting a young and diverse group of people to try designing things around this technology could uncover some of its possibilities. Also, by having them look at the roles doors play, and how their function may change... though I'm not too sure about that. *Laughs.* I wouldn't know until I tried, but I would love to give it a go.

I see.

I'd participate if asked.

We definitely would like to get you on board. There is a relationship between design and technology, but I'm also interested in the relationship between materials and technology. Historically speaking, the rapid evolution of materials changed the demands on design and finishing. For example, until stainless steel was invented, the only options were brass and aluminum.


Then came stainless steel.


After that, carbon.

Carbon. That makes sense.

Then, titanium.


And since then, there's been nothing!


After aluminum became standard, new finishing techniques were developed. For example, shot-blasted aluminum.


The same with stainless steel and anodizing.


Those were all incremental changes, but they didn't really change very much.


Is it the same with architecture?

Yes, it's exactly the same. The essentials remain unchanged. There are new innovations in design, but the fundamentals are the same.

As you said, we need to re-examine the essential qualities of our door handles. And, little by little, to try to incorporate new ideas and trends. As you mentioned, things like texture, 3D printing, and technological advances are important.

Yes, those are all important but expensive.


It's a little sad. While there are still lots of people out there focusing on the details of craftsmanship, I'm afraid I've started to consider that something of a luxury.

5. UNION’s 60th anniversary

Soon it will be UNION’s 60th anniversary.


Actually, I’m thinking about exhibiting at the Milan Furniture Fair again. Last time was about 10 years ago. I decided I wanted to exhibit there again for our 60th year. I want to display something that will make the world gasp.


Why don't you work with us? *Laughs.*

I couldn't possibly! *Laughs.* Milan, huh.

Last time we asked Taira Nishizawa to do it.


He organized the exhibition. All of it.

Did you exhibit handles too?

I didn't at that time.

Only the exhibition?

We just arranged an exhibit in a small church that I rented.


We blew so much money on that!

*Biggest laugh so far*

I guess it was only Toyota and us that got great reviews.

Wow, you mean the Toyota Lexus display!?

Yes, that’s right! That was the first time Lexus presented.

Was it the one that Junya Ishigami did for them?

Before that.

Before? Really?


Our exhibition got rave reviews. I told people that they could use all our products right away just as-is.


I want to exhibit something people will use at least once.


I was thinking I wanted to create something functional that can be used as it is, locally or in Europe.


6. The Future of Door Handles

Tateno-san, you're 70 now, but you've said that in your younger days you were mentored by architects in Osaka and Tokyo.


We are creating a new line of products branded with your name, JUNZO. We want to make a big impression in the world of architecture. Right now, we are conducting market research on designers to see what they think.

I see.

In the past, when someone said "Junzo," Yoshimura would come to mind.

Yeah, Junzo Yoshimura.

Isn't there another Junzo who designed houses?


That’s right. Junzo Itakura. In those days, architects designed everything from beginning to end. To the point that the people who were going to live in them almost had no say in anything. Even the positioning of furniture was all decided for them.


But times have changed.


We don't know how things will evolve from here.

That’s true.

With the houses you’re making, how much... or, how do you, suggest...or teach the clients about that kind of thing?

Recently, I completed a house in Manilla for a very rich person. I had little flexibility in my work, as everything was completely decided. Even though I had little autonomy in my work, the space itself was very complex and it had an experimental feel. For example, LA has been undergoing a housing movement. During times like this, as with Bauhaus as well, it’s not only about architecture; a variety of people from various specialties work together. Change won't come from architecture alone. Collaborating with different people from various industries is much more powerful... Today in Japan, people pay lots of money to live in joyless buildings. We need to change this by working together.

We have to. Absolutely.

When you have many creative minds working together, people experiment more, and new ideas are born. Then design itself carries meaning. That sort of environment is ideal.

That makes sense. Without the freedom to explore, new ideas won't emerge. And good things don't come from obsessively adhering to a budget.

But I think there is a social demand for experimental housing to serve as case studies, even if done at low cost without much of a budget. The declining birthrate in Japan is creating a surplus of land, and many decrepit houses can’t be rebuilt. In this situation we need to consider our possibilities. I think that there are some extremely beautiful details within the current state of things. By details, I mean things like arts and crafts, and rural city ideas, don't they all exist within the framework of a larger concept? Modernism was the same way... I'm interested in what new designs can be born from those details. As you mentioned before, after metal, what comes next? The other day, I participated in a conference with the head of MIT's Media-lab, Minoru Ito. He is always saying that biology and medicine are now becoming creative industries. When it gets to that stage there will be a huge leap in the evolutionary curve. For example, the telephone became like this [iPhone] in 20 years. With nanotechnology and biotechnology, materials themselves will change dramatically. Even door handles may go from metal to some kind of bio-derivative.

Well, if it comes to that, I guess door handles themselves could disappear.

You're right.


The concept of doors and handles as separate items may be changing, too.

*Laughs.* Yeah, it might.

Let’s talk about that in a little more depth... It's very interesting. I guess doors are like the shield of a building, but a shield that you can open and close. I think the ideas around this will change rapidly.

I think there will be things that change and others that don't. I don't think the fundamental idea of a house will change, but things like cars and trains will evolve really quickly. Especially, I think, cars. Now you don't even need a key to open a car door.

That’s right.

In that way things will change, but I don't think that houses will change that much on a fundamental level.

I don’t think there will be such a sudden change, but in the future, I think there will be a point where doors are no longer used. It could happen within several decades.

No doors...will things change that much?


Look at Junya Ishikami and Sou Fujimoto's KAIT (Kanagawa Institute of Technology) layout. They just used posts, one after another, to create a sense of separate spaces. I worry about the future of UNION if doors begin to steadily disappear from buildings.


But, *laughing,* that won't happen in our lifetime. That's the future. Honestly, at one point I was thinking of doing automatic doors. Ones that would open much faster than anything now. They would glide open instantly using a sensor.

I see.

But we can’t make them yet.


You have to pause to allow an automatic door to open; that just doesn't suit Japanese people. That’s why we still have doors with handles. They allow everybody to open doors at the speed they want. If automatic doors opened instantaneously, then the door handle would probably be relegated to antiquity. Japanese people are quite impatient.

You’re right.

They still don't open fast enough.


You've got to stop and wait for a little bit.


If they could open doors at the speed we enter rooms, demand for our handles would weaken... Well, I guess they would still be used on doors on upper level floors.


It worries me a little.

In a way, from a very simple perspective, doors always create dead space.

They do.

Things really haven't evolved much in that respect. Even sliding doors create dead space, as they need somewhere to slide into. There must be a way to make a door that doesn't create dead space, or a way to reduce the visio-spatial difference between open and closed doors. Some designers actually prefer open doors. How can you design around the difference between doors in an open and closed state? We can also consider the functions a door can have. I often use doors to hang coats, or to put mirrors on. There are a lot of possibilities with doors. The doors themselves can have many functions. I mean, not like a James Bond gadget. *Laughs.* But we can make secret doors. And we can accept that dead space is necessary, and open up possibilities for functions that space can have. We can bring dead space to life.

That makes sense. I think that's especially true for Japanese architects, when it comes to minimizing dead space. It isn’t so much so abroad, where dead space isn't as important.

I wonder if there are any companies researching or developing that idea in collaboration with door manufacturers...

They are quite far removed, actually.

Is that so?

We release new handle designs every year, but door companies do doors. There isn't any collaboration in that area. Though we have worked together with lock manufacturers. I think locksmiths are suffering from a very deep sense of crisis.

For me, what I dislike the most about doing public buildings, though not necessarily only public buildings, is emergency exit doors. They have to be push-to-open, and instead of a nice door handle they always have some gargantuan industrial bar. I'm sure architects have some ideas for aesthetically pleasing ways to handle emergency exits, but I think it's a law or something. There is always this sort of compulsory ideal.


Don't you ever wonder how long this game of cat and mouse will go on for? Why can't architects develop the details, or the system themselves? Why can't architects make the law? I sometimes wonder if this could somehow be made possible by talking to door manufacturers or government officials.

Well actually, the construction bureaucracy in Japan isn't that powerful. I'm sure you could get the freedom to do it your way.


Sure, no problem!

That’s great!


Of course, I'm not saying that having to have emergency exits is a bad thing, but architects most definitely hate not having any say on their design. I often feel this way, too, but there’s no choice; they must be installed in a certain way. And the bureaucrats never try to meet us half-way at all. I'm going to try and change that.

I see.


Sometimes, they let us use our own lever door handles instead of the standard bar handles outside of Japan. Actually, quite a lot. But definitely in the U.S. and Europe, and now to a certain degree in East Asia, emergency doors must have the bar type panic handle on them.

That’s true. In foyers you must have at least two. I really don't like the ventilation, and I hate revolving doors as well. If I have the time, I want to think up a better system. I think there are so many things that could be improved through better design.

Ok. Let’s discuss that in more depth later.

Not in regard to the Milan exhibit, but we recently held the Rem Koolhaas Elements of Architecture exhibition in Venice. It focused on the evolution of individual architectural components. For example, wall systems, ceiling systems, flooring systems...even toilets. But unfortunately, door handles weren't part of it.

Oh, really?

When you look at it in that way, it becomes unquestionably clear which areas have evolved and which have not. Not only door handles: I think looking at things from a birds' eye view helps us imagine and formulate questions about what the houses and the living environments of the future may be.


And also...Kenya Hara did that..what was it called?… HOUSE something...


That’s right, HOUSE VISION! I think that is also a good way to show the relationship between industry and design.

I saw the exhibition by Rem, it was really good. Ah, so that was what it was about! *Laughs.*

It was good. But to be honest, handles haven't really changed. Designs and materials have changed, but the basic functions are still open and close, right? If you make them automatic, so they open in a different way, in that sense they change. But fundamentally they haven't changed a lot.

There was an idealistic, futurist way of thinking about automatic doors. It's an older way of thinking. Ultimately, even if doors are automatic, people need to be able to open them by hand in an emergency. I think because basic structures maintain a high level of reliability, no matter how far things evolve, we probably will never fully rely on automatic doors. There will always be a physical aspect.

Yes, that's true.

(Everyone stands up and gathers in front of a wooden screen)

7. A Wooden Screen Carved in the Itto-Bori Style

My house in Ikoma is built in the Sukiya-style [house with a traditional tea room].


It was carved by a carpenter using itto-bori techniques.

Wow, is that a door?

It’s called ”shoritsu.”

...”shoritsu ”

It’s drying out and has warped a bit.


Oh, wow!!

The carpenter carved this too. These two places are gold.

Wow. So will this carving technique soon be lost?

There aren't any craftsmen left who specialize only in this technique.

…The mold-type object in the hallway, too?

That's a cast. The cast is made out of rubber. It’s interesting, right!?

(They return to their seats)

8. 3D Printing and Traditional Crafts

As we talked about before, craftsmen who specialize in wood are steadily disappearing. We can get casts made in aluminum and brass, and we also need them in wood, but there isn't anybody left who can carve them. Now, our young people are compiling 3D data and printing them out in resin. We plan to use them in place of wood. We started experimenting with this last year, using 3D printing to replicate traditional casting techniques. We are now able to fulfill orders on a very small scale of 10 items or so. Our plan is to be able to make bespoke items available online in the future.

I see. I think that's a very good plan. With 3D printing, as I mentioned earlier, the line between simple and complex designs, or ones that can be easily mass-produced and those that can’t, will slowly disappear. I think it's good to make a process that allows complex designs for general purpose use. Of course, I'm interested in seeing the designs it will create. We will be able to make anything with 3D printers, but I'm curious as to whether this will result in needlessly complex things. With computers, there is no limit to what we can design, and I wonder what we will come up with. Maybe it will be something that really feels comfortable to the human hand.

In that regard, we have to question whether or not these designs will match a given building. I think our work will become even more complex, as we will be trying to find ways to match handle designs with buildings.

But I think that's a good thing! If I could make custom door handles for a building I was designing, for example, if there was little difference in cost versus a mass-produced product, then I'm sure I would use them. 3D printing is about erasing the difference between mass-production and bespoke designs.

Like I said, we're just starting to have that: making models with a 3D printer. It's a cost-effective way of producing designs that combine traditional casting techniques and modern technology. Don't you think it will make a lot of architects happy? Until now, even if you wanted to have something custom made, it wasn't feasible because of the high cost.

That sounds great. I'd really love to see you collaborate with a door manufacturer. No matter how cool and profound your new door handles are, if they can only be used on the standard flimsy hollow doors, then the result will be diluted. Right now, the doors in Japan are becoming cheaper and cheaper.

*Laughs.* You're right.

*Laughs.* It would be great if these ideas of yours spill over to the other design elements of architecture.


At the moment, manufactures like Hunter Douglas or Silent Gliss, who produce products spanning across multiple design elements, don't really exist in Japan. It would be good to create something new and different with manufacturers like them.

I would definitely like to go to New York again.

Ah, most definitely! We have offices in the same building, after all.


There are a lot of architects in that building. And there is an exhibition space on the 9th floor.

Is that right?

By all means, take a look if you get the chance.

As soon as I get back! I'm just on the 13th floor.

*Laughs.* Please do.

9. Design Competitions and Support for Study-Abroad Programs

You know, I run the UNION Foundation for Ergodesign Culture. We have architects think up a theme for a competition, and Japanese students and recent graduates can enter.

I see.

Students enter their designs based on a given theme. Usually there are about 300 applicants. And from those we choose a winner.


It's aimed at students who want to study abroad.

Students receive a research grant. Actually, I won one. *Laughs.*

Really? That makes sense.


I think it's been going almost 22 years. There are quite a lot of winners who are now active in the architectural world. Some are working abroad. That's why I really want to see this program continue.


I've been wondering if it would be possible to work together with a foreign university. Aren't you working as a professor at the moment?

Yes, I am.

I would be interested in working with you in that respect... I'd want you to design a product for us. I think that kind of collaboration is something we would really like to do.

I see. I think there used to be many opportunities to study things like "Homes of the Future" at universities, but now the money for R&D like that all goes to public foundations, think tanks, and businesses.

Our design competition has continued for over 20 years and connected many talented architects. But it’s a bit of a shame that most of their design proposals end as proposals.


We want to create an environment where the most can be made of this program. I somehow think that's in a university setting.

Maybe a student exchange program?

It sounds interesting.

We've been talking to teachers who want to participate in something like this since last year... Ideally at a foreign university.

Yes, so far it has received a lot of attention domestically. We have to begin by thinking about how this can be branded internationally. If we can do that, then we can start to push the idea abroad.

If you have any advice?...

The Rhode Island School of Design is quite a famous design school on the East Coast. John Maeda, who is 2nd generation Japanese, was the Dean until just recently.


It's next to Brown University, a famous Ivy League school, and is the leader on the East Coast for jewelry design and pottery.


The U.S. is really famous for those kinds of practical skills.

I didn't know that.

It’s a really good school for crafts. There are quite a lot of Japanese people who go there.

Is that right?


Let’s make it happen!

Yes, definitely.


But there's also been some discussion about whether the level of design in the U.S. is all that good.


I think Europe has a higher level of design, but in that sort of academic field, it's probably much easier to do in the U.S.

One step at a time. First America, and Europe after that. I think we would go in that order.

Okay, then definitely.


*Interview concludes*

Thank you very much.

Planning: Naoyuki Miyamoto, Keigo Kuwano
Photography: Norinao Miyanishi
Reporting & Writing: Keigo Kuwano

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