Simple, refined and thoughtful, the architecture and product design of Tokyo-based Keiji Ashizawa always harks back to his honest design philosophy.
Heavily influenced by the principles of 20th-century modernism, Keiji Ashizawa is renowned for his forward-thinking architecture and product design. In true Tokyo fashion, his harmonious sense of design fuses modernity and tradition, while incorporating an inherent love for natural materials.
Whether it’s an exquisite luxury residence or pragmatic coffee tables, the Japanese architect always brings his signature pared-back aesthetic, while hoping to maximize the potential of each material and function. “Of course, we need talent and experience to design, but the most important attitude is honesty,” says Keiji. “Then, design and architecture will be good for everyone to use.”
But what exactly is honest design? It’s a term that Keiji himself coined, yet he still struggles to put it into words at times. “It means constantly thinking about what’s good for function, material and usability,” he says. “It’s important to avoid thinking about trends and fame as an architect.” This honest design philosophy seeps through in every project he undertakes and the result is what he calls “pure forms” – simple, light and refined products with an unwavering commitment to functionality and impacting the everyday lives of people.
Before his namesake studio came into fruition, Keiji points to his time spent working at Super Robot as a deeply influential period. He spent two years working at this metalworking studio, where the energetic designer developed the vital skills that have come to define his career to this day – his deep understanding of materials, particularly steel. “I really enjoyed making things there,” he says. “My design became much more modest and simple.”
Super Robot fostered an incredible environment for learning. If Keiji conjured up an idea, he could execute it that same day. As a result, designing on-the-fly became an important component of his overall creative and thinking process. Working closely with materials also allowed his bridged the gap between his ideas and the finished product – really helping his talent to bloom. “Never design anything that cannot be made,” says Keiji. It’s a quote from French designer Jean Prouvé that Keiji constantly references and succinctly sums up his philosophy.
Soon enough, Keiji began his own commission work little by little and it was a natural transition to his own studio from there. Through dozens of architecture, lighting and furniture projects, as well as collaborations with the likes of IKEA, Issey Miyake, Dior and Hublot, Keiji Ashizawa Studio continues to bring its honest design philosophy to the forefront – pushing the boundaries between East and West.
Keiji himself doesn’t have to look very far for inspiration. His home country is a boundless hub of energy that’s always moving at lightspeed and evolving with each passing moment. “Tokyo is still very interesting for me because it has many faces in one city,” he says. But while the studio operates out of the Japanese capital and he admits it certainly does have its charms, it’s not the city that sways him the most. “It’s too big and chaotic,” he exclaims.
Instead, Keiji constantly looks to Kyoto for inspiration. One thing he specifically loves about the ancient city is the rhythmical combination of natural materials, such as wood and stones, which bring “pure beauty and harmonization” to every space. From the magnificent buildings to the manicured gardens, Kyoto is a breeding ground for creative stimulation and Keiji makes it a point to visit regularly and soak up the atmosphere. “I respect old Japanese architecture and the style of living a lot,” he adds.
He brings this Tokyo-infused vitality and Kyoto-inspired balance to each and every project that he and his robust team undertake. “There’s so much inspiration in everyday life to push me to create,” Keiji says. “When I design something, the material, geographical features and even demands from the client can inspire me.”
One project he’s most proud of is a weekend house tucked away on the wooded lakeside shore of Saiko, one of the Five Lakes of Mt. Fuji. Stepping onto the site, you immediately feel embedded within the picturesque nature of the Yamanashi Prefecture. The eastern part of the site proudly showcases rocky cliffs and mountainous Akamatsu pine trees. Head to the south side of the site and you can see Mt. Fuji peeping through the trees. Together, these provide a perfect atmosphere for a weekend escape.
Like many of his architectural projects, the House in Saiko focuses on the direct relationship with its environment. Keiji approaches everything from the landscape to the product style, hoping to harmonize the space from top to bottom. “My design is derived naturally from communication with the material, production process and structure,” he explains. “The attempts to maximize the characteristics of the material and verify the validity of the process and the structure in its use and purpose.”
The House in Saiko is designed around the dining table, an enormous single wooden plane cut out of camphor. Located at the centre of the living room, the table adds an element of sculptural beauty to the space. This unique touch harmonizes the home with the beauty of Saiko, seen through the large, uninterrupted openings. “When a gentle seasonal wind runs through the house, people can feel nature spreading into their consciousness,” he says.
Another project he looks back on fondly is the Kinuta Collection. Located in the Kinuta ward of the Setagaya district in Tokyo, the complex of 36 apartments dates back to the 1980s and originally offered an integrated courtyard to give residents the advantages of a single-family home.
In close collaboration with Norm Architects, Keiji and his team renovated the interiors and created a total of 12 tailormade furniture pieces, which became the Karimoku Case Study furniture collection. “They all draw on the natural references of the connected courtyard,” he says. “The idea was to invite in nature as much as possible, both in design language and through material compositions.”
No matter the project, Keiji Ashizawa continues to move at his own rhythm in the world of architecture. The enthusiastic designer holds true to his honest design philosophy and harnesses its power from one brilliant idea to another. “I always hope to create architecture, space and products that make people feel relaxed,” he says. “But with a kind of tension that brings everything together.”