Catch the Wave
Benjamin Budde -- Interior Design, 5/1/2009 12:00:00 AM
"Neither residential nor commercial" is how Nendo founder Oki Sato describes his new studio's location in the Meguro district of Tokyo. "Kind of an in-between area." As he speaks about his interior for the studio, it starts to sound like its design achieves a similar balancing act, with some provocative results.
Endearing Sato to the location were its convenient access to bullet trains and airports. He was drawn to this 1,500-square-foot space in particular by its openness and generous windows. Basically a trapezoid in plan, it's now partitioned into seven parallel zones. The front door opens into one sliver, which serves as reception. To the left is the meeting area. To the right, the other five long, narrow zones follow consecutively: model production, product design, architecture, an office for Sato and the management staff, and finally storage.
"We first considered regular low partitions, but that felt too open," he says. "Then we imagined two hands holding a piece of cloth and letting it sag in the middle." The resulting "swag" dividers are characterized by cutouts of various sizes. "Sitting down, people feel they have their own space. Standing, they can see and communicate with one another," he explains, going on to compare the curved shapes to ocean waves. "The visual effect is that people and equipment look like they're floating." The partitions with the smallest, highest apertures, offering the greatest privacy, are the ones flanking his own office.
Finding a happy medium between opposites being a major theme of the project, Sato selected plywood for the partitions in order to avoid the cliché of the design firm with the cold, hard-edged interior. "But unfinished plywood was just too woody, so we stained it white," he says. The fluorescent linear fixtures, he adds, were custom-designed for their "bluish-white light to contrast with the wood." Curtains made from clear plastic strips, installed between zones, dampen sound.
The largest "swag" in each partition descends far enough to serve as a doorway, but the sills are nevertheless 7 inches above the floor. "With no sills, it would be too open. With doors, it would be too closed," Sato explains." In many countries, questions of accessibility would loom over elements like these, but Japanese building codes for residences and offices make few such impositions. Asked about the possibility of a misunderstanding due to cultural differences, Sato admits that the tradition warrants explanation: The notion of high thresholds is related, in part, to Buddhist temple-building practices. Entering a formal space involves simultaneously stepping high over the sill and bowing low under the lintel—a concept called kekkai.
Expressed by the partitions' gentle curves, Sato's personal style is "friendlier" than "purely minimal," he says. His experiment in combining open and closed, warm and cool, proves that it's possible to have the best of both worlds.
Photography by Jimmy Cohrssen.
From Front Okamura: Chairs (Model-Making). Muji: Tables (Model-Making, Meeting Area, Office), Shelving (Office). One Percent Products: Custom Chairs (Meeting Area). Gebrüder Thonet Vienna: Coatrack. Swedese Möbler: Stools (Office). Throughout Izumi Okayasu Lighting Design: Custom Linear Fixtures. Loop Planning Studio: General Contractor.