The red cedar bench tells 10 years of stories. The utility seat was among the first pieces created by Ishinomaki Laboratory, a DIY furniture project founded by architect Keiji Ashizawa to empower people in northeastern Japan, hit by disaster following the 2011 tsunami.
For much of the past decade, under the sun and snow, the bench – its sturdy simplicity and functional lines designed by Taiji Fujimori – has been installed outside the workshop of the Ishinomaki laboratory in the prefecture of Miyagi, providing a welcome resting place for staff.
And now the bench, organically grained and dark gray from the passing of time, is one of the countless items on display at a new exhibition in Tokyo celebrating a decade of Ishinomaki Lab, tracing the dynamic evolution of the project from a local public workshop to a respected global design brand, always firmly rooted in the goal of social impact.
Today, the Ishinomaki Laboratory brand is sold in design stores around the world, with a repertoire of around 105 products – mostly furniture and other lifestyle products made of wood, as well as a series of fabrics – created. in collaboration with 36 design companies, including Torafu Architects, Drill Design and Norm Architects.
One of the key partners is the furniture company Karimoku, which launched the collaborative brand Ishinomaki Laboratory by Karimoku in the summer of 2019, taking its production to new heights.
Other markers of growth include its expanding Made in Local initiative, in which licensed partners from London, Philippines, manufacture Ishinomaki products using locally available materials, and the recent opening of Ishinomaki Home Base, a café, an exhibition hall, an event space and four rooms. guesthouse (a new community workshop is also in the works), a few minutes from his carpentry workshop in Ishinomaki.
“We couldn’t have imagined that we would have evolved from a small public workshop to the furniture brand that we are today,” says Ashizawa, reflecting on the past decade. “Looking back, it was really the culmination of small steps and ideas, built on top of each other, by a community of collaborators. We are improving a little each day and making our way as we go.
It all started in April 2011, when Ashizawa began traveling regularly to Ishinomaki to help clean up his friend’s restaurant (which he had designed), one of the countless local businesses affected by the 3/11 tsunami.
“During one of these visits, I came across Jidaiya, a local store,” says Ashizawa. “The owner had fixed it himself using DIY skills. Other traders along this street had also started to take matters into their own hands and begin the process of reconstruction. With this inspirational drive from local DIY, I realized that a public workshop might be the answer – a place where people could freely come and go to get the tools and materials needed for the rebuilding, as well as being helped by those with the technical skills. to help them carry out their projects.
And that’s how the Ishinomaki lab was born. “When we launched, our main focus was on speeding up the recovery and rebuilding process through DIY and design. I had also been thinking about what I could do to help with my specific skills as an architect and designer, and felt that creating the studio space could be a useful contribution.
Key to the project was – and remains – charismatic Takahiro Chiba, a former sushi chef turned furniture builder, who employs six people at the brand’s flagship workshop, Ishinomaki.
It didn’t take long for the brand’s now iconic red cedar wood furniture products – each merging functional simplicity with a clean aesthetic that blends seamlessly with contemporary home decors – to turn the tables on. heads in the design world.
“The Ishinomaki laboratory represents the most primitive and universal elements of furniture and design,” explains Hiroshi Kato, vice president of Karimoku Furniture Inc. “The idea that with just one bench, a person will sit there naturally, then another person next to them, leading to a conversation, to a communication – in essence, the building blocks of society. “
The exhibit showcases the classic and timeless solidity of the Ishinomaki bench, originally designed by Ashizawa for an outdoor film screening event; the Ishinomaki stool, created during a series of workshops organized in 2011 by the American furniture company Herman Miller for people living in temporary housing; Taiji Fujimori’s Endai bench; the angular minimalism of the 105 ° lounge chair by Norm Architects with Kvadrat textiles; and many more recent collaborations.
A new product that also debuts at the exhibit is the Ishinomaki Penguin Kit from Torafu Architects, the project’s latest DIY wooden animal kit (with proceeds going to support wildlife affected by global warming).
And in the next 10 years? The Ishinomaki Lab is likely to remain grounded in community empowerment, fusing quality design with social impact – locally as well as globally.
“Thanks to the explosion of volunteerism after 2011, Ishinomaki is perhaps one of the most vibrant post-disaster cities, with unique community initiatives that continue to inspire and innovate,” said Ashizawa. “We hope that the region can be even more creative and that the Ishinomaki lab can help make it a reality. Although we have gone from a volunteer public workshop to a furniture brand, we are still an integral part of the Ishinomaki community.
“’Jyu’: 10 Years of Ishinomaki Laboratory” is taking place at Karimoku Commons Tokyo through August 6th. For more information visit ishinomaki-lab.org.
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