The natural: Hiromichi Konno

August 5, 2009

Hiromichi Konno’s partnership with Danish manufacturer Fritz Hansen merges natural form with precision engineering.

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Born in 1972 in Fukushima, Hiromichi Konno had his first experience of design watching his grandmother practicing Origami as a child. From then on he knew he wanted to become a designer. It was a childhood revelation that was reinforced some years later, while travelling in Denmark. Konno walked into a Copenhagen lobby and was struck by a glamorous array of Artichoke lights, casting their sensuous shadows on the surrounding walls. The effect was magical and Konno was forever hooked on Danish design. This is perhaps why as a young designer starting out on his own, after spending some time at Ross Lovegrove’s studio in London, Konno contacted Fritz Hansen. Despite his small portfolio of work and even smaller international profile, Fritz Hansen could see the potential for a meeting of minds and invited him to work on some ideas. Years later the RIN chair has found its way insto production, launching in Milan this year, and more recently at Saturday in Design.

On visiting Sydney in July Konno described his deep connection to the Danish Design aesthetic. Indeed, there are a number of affiliations and associations between Danish and Japanese design culture. For one, both countries have historically had limited access to materials and resources. For much of the early modern period this required its designers to squeeze the most out of the material they had most readily available: wood. This restricted material palette demanded ingenuity and a high level of craft. It also bred an appreciation of the beauty in the necessary. There are a number of Japanese terms for this aesthetic, but in architectural terms it is similar to Sukiya: the architecture of refined simplicity.
Another shared cultural characteristic is a deeply engrained respect for nature, as something that has a life and will all of its own. There is humility in this attitude.

For this reason, when talking about the RIN chair, Konno describes its design development as a process of ‘form finding’. This attitude is a far cry from the heroic image of the designer imposing his or her will on an object, and has been popularised by architects such as Chris Bosse. These designers look to natural forms such as soap bubbles to inform the best way to design a building – the ‘best’ not simply being the most efficient way to build, but the most elegant.
In the case of the RIN chair, for inspiration Konno started out with a bird’s nest; by its nature an object that does not have a pre-determined form, but which evolves over time into the right shape. With this as a starting point Konno spent four years revising and evolving a number of prototypes, to resolve its final form.

As for its name, like many Japanese words it can mean a number of things: that which is stunning, elegant and courageous. Again Konno draws influence from traditional Japanese culture, this time from the art of Ikebana; the stark arrangement of simple plant forms. Although often described as ‘flower arranging’, Ikebana is a million miles from the European model of vases stuffed to the gunnels with nature’s floral bounty. As Konno says, “a single flower would not look as gorgeous or luxurious as a bunch of flowers but its existence is very strong and real. It clearly shows the individuality, the true face of the flower. As it cannot disguise itself with other flowers, it has to look very confident and elegant.”
There is in the design of the RIN chair a pared down aesthetic, a jettisoning of the extraneous. Although the seat is manufactured from moulded plastic, its form and soft tactile finish locates it squarely within the Danish/Japanese tradition of design drawn from nature. Currently, while Konno hopes to extend it to a suite, it is a stand-alone product. But he is in no hurry. Nothing good comes fast.

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