Words Stephen Lacey
If there was ever any doubt that people are full of contradictions, just spend some time with industrial designer Taku Kumazawa. The creator of the GECA certified Tipo mesh stacking chair, and CTZ tilt-top table turns out to be a bit of a rev head, admitting that he secretly covets a gas-guzzling 1970’s lime-green Porsche 911 with a whale tail.
“I love cars,” he confesses. “In fact, some of my favourite designers have worked in the automotive industry; people such as Luigi Colani (designed for the likes of Fiat, Alfa Romeo and BMW way back in the 1950s), and of course Giugiaro (creator of the VW Golf).”
His own set of wheels is a modest Audi A4, but he promises he will buy a Toyota Prius “soon”.
It’s also a paradox that one of Japan’s most respected eco-designers, should dream up so many of his planet friendly creations while speeding along the busy highways near his home in Nagoya (The rest of his ideas come to him while he’s relaxing in the bath with a beer).
Taku says his earliest influence was his father, Hajime, who also worked as an industrial designer, as well as being professor at the local design college and chairman of Japan’s biggest design association.
You could be forgiven for imagining Taku must have grown up in a house surrounded by beautiful objects, but this was not the case. “Just a few copies of MD and Abitare lying around,” he says.
His first venture into design was creating houses, trains and of course, cars from the Lego his father would bring home to him. By the time he was five-years-old he had been given his own handsaw and would use it to make wooden toys.
By the time he finished high school he knew he wanted to be a designer, so he enrolled for a degree in Industrial Design at Nagoya University. He immediately stood out as one to watch, after coming up with the design for a folding outdoor chair made from recycled material.
“Right from the beginning my professor at university taught me how to create in an ESD manner,” Taku says. “The problem was, when I graduated in the early 90s, there was no such thing as ESD in Japan; no concept of using recycled material to make a new product, or of breaking a product down at the end of its life for recycling, nothing.”
He eventually found a job with axona AICHI, a commercial furniture manufacturer, founded in 1939. Initially his employer wasn’t too keen on taking advice from the eager new young gun.
“When I suggested we use recycled material, they thought I was mad,” says Taku. “I always wanted to make furniture that could be separated into different materials at the end of its life. I asked my boss why can’t we do that? And the boss just shook his head. Nobody seriously thought about that 20 years ago.”
“But things have changed. Nowadays Japan is number one in the world when it comes to sustainability. We have to separate our rubbish into 6 different categories. Even the plastic in the front of window-envelopes must be removed for recycling.”
Things have also changed at axona AICHI, where Taku has remained for the past 16 years. His AFRDI and GECA Certified award-winning Tipo chair is not only incredibly lightweight, comfortable and functional, it is made from 100 per cent recycled materials. The frame is manufactured from the recycled plastic derived from defective automobile engine fans; items that in the past would have become landfill. And at the end of its life, all components are 100 per cent recyclable with simple disassembly into each material type.
Even the packaging for Tipo minimises the environmental footprint when transported around the world. The recycled/recyclable cardboard boxes are designed to hold an incredible 35 chairs. Only Taku – or perhaps an expert in origami – could arrive at such a clever, compact solution. 40 chairs can actually be stacked just 2 metres high on a trolley, minimising storage space
What Taku also demonstrates with a chair such as Tipo is that eco-friendly designer furniture need not be a compromise when it comes to performance. It’s little wonder it has become so popular with facility managers and OH&S personnel in offices, educational facilities, conference centres and ecclesiastical markets.
So which comes first…form, function or ESD? “Form and functionality are always considered together, along with price,” Taku says. “ESD is always there, always, although it doesn’t drive the actual design itself.”
And what does he think of the view that the most sustainable design is not to design anything? Does the world need another chair?
“It is okay to design a good chair, but what we don’t need is another bad chair; bad form, bad design,” he says. “I never lose hope, because I keep making these good products with recycled materials and hopefully my influence will filter down.”
In the meantime, Taku will keep on dreaming of Porsches, drinking beer and coming up with clever ideas.