ON THE COVER
Architect Mariam Kamara, founder of Atelier Masōmī, is redefining architecture in her home country of Niger.
year and a half ago, when we locked in issue themes for 2020, we had no idea how relevant “The Warrior Issue” would be by the time we began its production. As we scouted stories to include, the world around us was reeling from a growing pandemic, job losses, economic uncertainty, and civil unrest.
To us, in the context of design, warriors are designers who just don’t quit. They exhibit true grit and determination as they push themselves and their work to the next level to effect positive change. In this issue, we’ve invited creatives at every career stage to share their stories: a
Japanese industrial designer who challenged the tenet of form versus function and went on to become one of the most prolific and influential designers of the 21st century; an internationally acclaimed interior designer who still deals with gender disparity; and designers from around the world who united around a common goal during mandatory quarantines, and whose relentless creativity sprouted new products, messages of hope, and limitless inspiration.
BEFORE YOU MOVE INTO THE REST OF THE ISSUE, I'D LIKE TO TAKE A MOMENT TO SAY THANK YOU to our readers, social media followers, and advertising and sponsorship partners who have taken the time to send notes of encouragement and gratitude, and who have stayed with us during this unprecedented time in history. Your outpouring of recognition is so heartwarming and validates the tremendous amount of hard work and long hours that our team pours into GRAY to ensure that our work is meaningful.
For GRAY, like many small businesses, this year has been the most challenging we’ve ever faced. But we moved quickly at the onset of the pandemic to assess how to best support the design industry with our platforms. We immediately dropped our subscription rates and removed the paywall from the digital version of the magazine to enable even more people to discover its stories and resources. As stay-at-home orders extended, we sought to keep our audience engaged and to provide as much face time as possible by launching our Virtual Design Expo and symposium on April 1. The digital event, which included live talks with local and international designers, new product galleries, and more, was so successful, it will continue indefinitely on our website. As businesses began to reopen, we redesigned our weekly e-news to arrive on Monday mornings, and we completely redesigned our website to better accommodate video and other media content. In late August, we’ll be rolling out a new video series, “In the Design Lounge,” featuring roundtable discussions about today’s design business climate. And when it comes to the much-anticipated GRAY Awards, we’ve decided that the competition is more important this year than ever, so we’ve been busy imagining an alternative to a large, in-person gathering that will still provide a live presentation and celebration of this year’s winners.
We miss you and eagerly await the day when we can see you all again in person. Until then, we offer this moment of escape and inspiration.
New products, creative solutions, acts of kindness, and words of wisdom. Designers around the world have rallied with support and innovation during the pandemic. Here are just a few of the things that came across our radar.
RETHINKING URBAN ENVIRONMENTS IN THE MIDST OF THE PANDEMIC, Austrian architecture firm Studio Precht proposes Parc de la Distance: a social-distancing-friendly park laid out in the wandering pattern of a fingerprint. The concept offers a gated outdoor space lined with tall hedges and features paths that circulate guests from the edge of the park to its center and back around again. Sound a little too isolated? Cofounder Chris Precht explains that the height of the hedges will vary so that visitors are intermittently immersed in nature or able to see across the garden.
Once COVID-19 retreats, the park will provide a safe haven where visitors can escape the noise and bustle of the city, and even enjoy some alone time—should the need arise again in a post-pandemic world. “I have lived in many cities,” Precht says, “but I think I have never been alone in public. I think that’s a rare quality.”
WE WERE HERE
“For hundreds of years now, Chilkat blankets have documented history, clan migration, and stories for the Indigenous peoples of the Northwest Coast of America and Canada,” says artist, teacher, and community facilitator Lily Hope (Tlingit). “Chilkat Protector will serve as a record of this time. In the future, people will know we were here, and we survived. We are still weaving.” Created by Juneau, Alaska-based Hope as a way to document the pandemic, Chilkat Protector is a mask featuring Chilkat weaving on thigh-spun merino and cedar bark warp and merino weft yarns, with tin cone and ermine tail embellishments. The piece will be on display through October 25, 2020, as part of the Washington State Historical Society’s 15th annual In the Spirit: Contemporary Native Arts virtual exhibition.
Sydney Akagi Photography
Italian multimedia artist and designer Matteo Cibic’s series of rugs—inspired by the forests of the Andaman Islands, which form an archipelago in the Bay of Bengal between India and Myanmar—was designed while he quarantined at his home in Vicenza, Italy, where he was “dreaming of pure, untouched wilderness.” The collection, woven from wool and silk in vibrant colors, is hand-knotted by the master artisans of Jaipur Rugs in a remote village of Rajasthan.
Designed to mitigate the inadvertent spread of COVID-19 and other pathogens, the Sigma Touch Tool is an instrument for interacting with high-touch surfaces. Named for its shape, the fluid brass form features an eyelet for attaching to a key ring, a hooked surface for pulling door handles, and a subtle protrusion for use as a stylus for elevator buttons
DRINKING AND DANCING ARE POSSIBLE IN THIS HAZMAT SUIT CONCEPTUALIZED FOR PANDEMIC NIGHTLIFE. The novel coronavirus has had a devastating impact on the music, hospitality, live events, and nightlife industries. To help revitalize them, designers Miguel Risueño, Sagdas, Juan Civera, and Francisco Zurita of Production Club (the team behind art installations and events for Skrillex, Riot Games, and others) created the Micrashell Futuresuit, a solution that allows people to safely interact in close proximity to one another. The airtight personal protective suit has an extensive filtration and breathing system that employs regulators with N95 filters, and also offers seemingly unlimited features—from phone and sound integration to a supply system that allows wearers to consume beverages. As of press time, the patent-pending suits are in the prototype phase as the design team collaborates with medical-device experts to fine-tune the invention. Production Club has already received requests for orders and hopes to bring the next-level garment to market in the near future. Visit their website for comprensive details.
In the early months of the pandemic, the art collective Electric Coffin brought Seattleites levity, joy, and hope with its large-scale projections of custom Mylar balloons scattered across the city. Working with the Paper Crane Factory for mobile projection, its Rise Above images appeared on landmarks, a hospital, and other buildings, and included uplifting messages such as “Thinking of You” and “We Will Dance Again.”
OBJECTS OF DESIRE
Pining for change of indoor scenery? GRAY has a surefire solution for every style, and every surface, in your home. Don't be afraid to pile on the layers with these top picks, from de Gournay to Christian Lacroix.
FLIGHT + FANTASY
Part of the L’Odyssée collection of fabrics and wallpapers from Christian Lacroix Maison (available through Designers Guild), Oiseau Fleur Bourgeon is an enigmatic jacquard weave with a soft shimmer, embroidered details, and a grand botanical scene.
WHEN FASHION MEETS INTERIORS
Fashion designer Erdem Moralioglu—known for his sumptuous floral patterns and feminine silhouettes—partners with de Gournay on luxurious silk wallpaper and fabric so gorgeous, you’ll want to wear it. The Imperial Yellow colorway (shown) is created when watercolor is painted onto hand-dyed silk, which is then backed with paper.
Virginia Johnson, a Toronto-based artist and textile designer whose clients include Vogue, New York magazine, Kate Spade, and John Derian, launched her first wallpaper collection in May. Cabbage Allover (shown in Midnight) captures one of Johnson’s favorite subjects to paint (flowers) and is printed on clay-coated paper in the United States.
Himalayan wool blended with Chinese silk and subtle dye variations give the Sina carpet a velvety, almost painterly quality. Handwoven and hand-dyed, this limited series is only available at Driscoll Robbins’ Seattle showroom.
AN ODE TO WANDERLUST
Artist and painter Serena Dugan launched her eponymous collection of fabrics and wallpaper, Serena Dugan Studio, earlier this year. A highlight is this modern but feminine pattern (available in three colorways; textile shown on bench), which captures the vibrancy of the famed Italian island of Capri and was inspired by an Italian midcentury botanical sketch.
PERSIAN RUG COMEBACK
Inspired by the extraordinary Polonaise carpets—woven in Esfahān and other weaving centers of Persia during the late 16th century and throughout the 17th century, with only 300 surviving today—Jan Kath’s Polonaise collection, done in his signature unconventional style, offers contemporary, reimagined versions.
AFTER MORE THAN TWO DECADES of working for large entities including Seiko Epson and ID Two (now Ideo), industrial designer Naoto Fukasawa launched his eponymous studio in 2003 and went on to become one of the most prolific and influential designers of the 21st century.
A 1998 prototype for the Seiko Kinetic Auto Relay wristwatch. Photographed by Hidetoyo Sasaki.
EMBRACING THE CORE ESSENCE OF AN OBJECT, JAPANESE INDUSTRIAL DESIGNER NAOTO FUKASAWA CAPTURES THE SUBLIME SIDE OF SIMPLICITY.
By Naomi Pollock
simple circle encased in a small square, Naoto Fukasawa’s wall-mounted CD player was a dramatic departure from convention. Unlike the usual nondescript box with its blinking lights and buttons, his unadorned device was modeled after the familiar Japanese kitchen fan. While its exposed, spinning disc echoed the fan’s whirling blades, a pull-cord served as its on-off switch. Instinctual yet innovative, functional yet fun, Fukasawa’s clever idea was conceived in 1999 and subsequently produced by Muji, becoming one of the Japanese retailer’s most popular items and catapulting Fukasawa into design stardom.
What distinguishes Fukasawa’s products is the thought he puts into each one so that it can be used, as he puts it, “without thought.” Fukasawa does not strive for invention or personal expression. Instead, his straightforward shapes, neutral colors, and rounded corners are encoded with information based on the designer’s keen observations of human behavior. The study of the unconscious ways in which the body naturally engages with an object is fundamental to Fukasawa’s design process. This approach yields products that practically anticipate the user’s next move—even before a finger is lifted.
Fukasawa began his career as an in-house designer at the Japanese electronics giant Seiko Epson, which he entered following his 1980 graduation from Tama Art University’s Product Design department. After eight years, he was ready to leave. Cognizant of differences in design practices worldwide, he was eager to go overseas and landed a job with the San Francisco firm ID Two (now Ideo).
Fukasawa’s California stint coincided with the rise of Silicon Valley and provided a chance to work on cutting-edge, computer-related projects for Apple and other tech companies. Fukasawa could have stayed on in the United States, but instead chose to return to Japan in 1996, first running Ideo’s Tokyo office and then launching his own studio in 2003. “I wanted to be an international designer, but I also wanted to be Japanese,” he explains.
The stone-shaped fiberglass Koishi pouf, designed by Fukasawa for Italian furniture company Driade, pairs the tranquil forms found in traditional Japanese gardens with a vibrant, modern color palette.
Today, Fukasawa has found a perfect balance between the two. With half of his clients in Europe, he is active globally—a testament to the universal appeal of his work. Yet Fukasawa’s design sensibility remains rooted in Japan. Ironically, a major benefit of time spent abroad was Fukasawa’s development of a deep appreciation for traditional Japanese aesthetics. “Because I was out of the country, I could better see the beauty in Japan,” he explains. And in that beauty he found kernels of inspiration. It was while reading haiku—17-syllable poems highlighting a single moment—that Fukasawa realized that design could also underscore the joy of small, ordinary actions, like sipping coffee or picking up a pen.
Take the Hiroshima Armchair. Its rounded back and arms wrap the body supportively, inviting the user to sit back and settle in. Created for the Japanese furniture-maker Maruni Wood Industry in 2008, the design began with Fukasawa’s empirical study of chair comfort. He noted that the seat angle needed to buttress the body and that people tend to lean sideways while relaxing, then incorporated these observations into his scheme. As if carved from a single chunk of wood, the chair is made of separate components that fit together seamlessly. Unsurprisingly, the design became a best-seller for Maruni. Now the company’s art director, Fukasawa extends his vision beyond creating his own products.
Working with manufacturers like Maruni is just one way in which Fukasawa has broadened his impact on the design industry. He is a member of the Muji advisory board, a director of 21_21 Design Sight (a hub of design-related events and exhibitions in Tokyo), and a former chairman of the Japanese government–sponsored Good Design Award. But among his most far-reaching contributions are the Super Normal workshops and exhibitions, which he curated with British designer Jasper Morrison.
The two designers have been good friends since the mid-1990s, when Fukasawa first visited Morrison’s London studio. Fukasawa recalls that they had lunch together at a casual, self-service café, where Morrison ordered one bowl of soup with two spoons. “He didn’t say anything. He just gave me a spoon so we could eat together,” Fukasawa recalls. “I was so touched.” There was no need for words nor explanation. They were already on the same page.
BELOW: A humidifier designed for Fukasawa’s own appliance and
sundries brand, ±0. MIDDLE: The prototype for an LED watch.
Hidetoyo Sasaki; Hidetoyo Sasaki; Akihiro Ito / un(amana group)
ABOVE: Fukasawa designed the ceramic Tetra vase for B&B Italia in 2005.
BELOW: Fukasawa designed the interiors of the Issey Miyake boutique in Japan’s
Ginza district. There, aluminum panels, spaced to allow garments to be displayed according to different themes, are imbued with a traditional nasukon (purplish-navy) color.
Masaya Yoshimura (Copist); Aioi Pro Photo Co., Ltd.
ABOVE: Opened in 2020, the Kagoshima Bank Head Office Building features streamlined interiors by Fukasawa.
“Jasper is the rare person who really understands the simple culture of Japan,” Fukasawa explains. This shared way of thinking became the basis of Super Normal, a project that selected everyday items from various places—such as a blue plastic kitchen basket from Japan or the Bialetti espresso pot from Italy—and exhibited them in Tokyo and London in 2006. The show neither celebrated the objects’ appearances nor championed their designers. In fact, many of the items were created anonymously. Instead, it singled out objects so completely integrated with daily life that they are practically invisible. Through the eyes of the exhibition’s curators, the audience could see these items anew. Many exemplified the inherent, though unintentional, beauty of a form inextricable from its function.
Though machine-made and mass-produced, these Super Normal items share this and other qualities with the daily-use goods historically made by local artisans in Japan from wood, bamboo, and other materials. “They were not trying to make beauty,” Fukasawa says. “They were just trying to make the best tools they could.” These traditional items are categorized as mingei, a term meaning “arts of the people” coined by Sōetsu Yanagi, the philosopher, critic, and father of one of Japan’s design pioneers, Sori Yanagi. Concerned that industrialization might render them extinct, the elder Yanagi gathered mingei ceramics, textiles, and tools and used this collection to launch the Japan Folk Crafts Museum in Tokyo in 1936. Fittingly, Fukasawa became the institution’s director in 2012.
Bringing two of his passions together, 21_21 Design Sight hosted a show curated by Fukasawa titled Mingei – Another Kind of Art in 2019. It presented 146 traditional and contemporary items selected by Fukasawa from the Japan Folk Crafts Museum collection. Because of COVID-19, exhibitions and other public activities have been curtailed throughout Japan. Yet there may be a small silver lining to this pandemic. As Fukasawa notes, sheltering in place has been a boon for Japan’s flagging furniture industry. “Now people care more about the quality of life at home,” he says. And nothing accomplishes that better than thoughtful design.