Japanese Design Archive Survey


Designers & Creators

Shiro Kuramata

Interior designer


Date: 19 July 2016, 13:30 - 15:00
Location: Kuramata Design Office
Interviewees: Mieko Kuramata and Kaoru Miyamoto
Interviewers: Yasuko Seki and Akiko Wakui
Author: Yasuko Seki



Shiro Kuramata

Interior designer

1934 Born in Tokyo, Japan
1956 Graduated from Kuwasawa Design School, Department of Living Design.
1965 After working for San-ai Advertising Department and MATSUYA Interior Design Office, he established Kuramata Design Office.
1990 Awarded the L'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture.
1991 He passed away.

Shiro Kuramata



The news of Shiro Kuramata's sudden death in the winter of 1991 came as a shock to the Japanese design world. Today, Japanese architecture and design are highly regarded around the world, and Japanese creators are active at home and abroad, but Kuramata was one of the first Japanese to play an active role overseas.
Kuramata's designs have a unique worldview, often described by the words "transparency" and "floating", and his work has led to a spirit of criticism of manufacturing in the age of mass production and mass consumption. Kuramata is a legend and has had a profound influence on the design world.
Kuramata's work is largely interior and architecture and interior design for ISSEY MIYAKE boutiques, restaurants, bars and exhibitions, as well as product design such as furniture, boutique fixtures and lighting, represented by "Miss Blanche". Although not widely known, Kuramata has also designed and built many workplaces and houses for friends and acquaintances.
In the catalogue of the exhibition "Shiro Kuramata and Ettore Sottsass" at 21_21 DESIGN SIGHT in 2011, "The Kuramata Chronicle" (author: Keiko Hashimoto) summarizes Kuramata's activities by dividing them into three periods. "Inspired by Arts" (1961 - 1970), "Austerity and Irony" (1971 - 1980), "Toward Freedom" (1981 - 1991). In the 60's, 70's and 80's, Kuramata sublimated his rich talent into design, intuitively sensing the mood of the times and society, and inspired by his friendships with fascinating creators. Kuramata's work was an inspiration not only to the design world, but also to creators in other fields such as art, architecture and fashion.
In the 1980s, Kuramata's first foray into the world of design was when he met Italian design master Ettore Sottsass and designed ISSEY MIYAKE's overseas boutique.
Many of the furniture pieces that come to mind as Kuramata's designs today, such as the broken glass, the star piece, "Miss Blanche" sealed with artificial roses, and the expanded metal "How High the Moon", as well as the transparent and floating interior designs made of glass, acrylic and light, are works from the 1980s. In his later years, on the other hand, he was involved in a number of large public projects, such as the Taiko Bridge Project (1989) in Kumamoto City, which was part of the much-anticipated Kumamoto Artopolis architectural project that was attracting a lot of attention at the time. Although his sudden death was a great blow to the Japanese design world, Kuramata's design genes are still being passed on to creators in Japan and abroad. We spoke with Mrs.Mieko Kuramata and Ms.Kaou Miyamoto about the current state of Kuramata's works and design materials.




"Pyramid Furniture" (1968); "Furniture in Irregular Forms" series (1970); "Lamp(Oba-Q)" (1972); "Glass Chair" (1976); "Imperial " (1981); a series of works with star pieces (1983); "How High the Moon" (1986); "Miss Blanche" (1988); Perfume Bottle for ISSEY MIYAKE (1990); "Laputa" (1991); etc.


ISSEY MIYAKE MEN, Minami Aoyama (1987); Edward’s Head Office (1969); ISSEY MIYAKE, From First Building (1976); ISSEY MIYAKE MEN, Seibu Department Store, Shibuya (1987); ОбломовA (1989); Spiral (1990); etc.


"Kuramata Shiro no shigoto", KAJIMA INSTITUTE PUBLISHING(1976); "Kuramata Shiro: 1967 – 1987", PARCO Publishing (1988); "STAR PIECE: Kuramata Shiro no Imeji Skechi", TOTO Publishing (1991); "Migenzo no fukei – kioku, yume, katachi", SUMAI Library Publishing Company(1991); etc.

Shiro Kuramata works



We hope that the archives left by Kuramata can be used for research and study of design and culture.

Kuramata's works and materials now

 My interest in design archives began when I was the director of the exhibition "Shiro Kuramata and Ettore Sottsass" at 21_21 DESIGN SIGHT in 2011, and I was confronted with the fact that valuable works and records of Mr. Kuramata had been lost, and that many of his contemporaries who could speak about him had passed away.
Therefore, I wanted to ask Ms. Mieko, who has been compiling Mr. Kuramata's design legacy since his death in 1991, about the design archive. In fact, what is the current situation regarding the preservation and management of his works and materials?


Kuramata Kuramata's work is divided into two main categories: the interior design for shops and exhibitions, and the product design for furniture and accessories. As you know, very little of the works of interior design is still in existence. There are only a few that can be seen today, such as the ISSEY MIYAKE MEN shop in Aoyama, and even these have been modified from the originals. So, as far as interior design is concerned, there are only photographs and drawings left. Kuramata himself was aware that interior design is constantly being updated, so he was conscious of the need to preserve his work in photographs.
In addition to Kuramata Design Office, the products are owned by Ishimaru, Mihoya Glass and Mr. Issey Miyake, who have supported Kuramata's manufacturing. The collection of Kuramata Design Office is stored in three containers in a warehouse in Toyosu. Every time I rent them out for an exhibition, I have to go to the warehouse to see them, and I don't know how long I can keep them in this state.


 Speaking of Mr. Kuramata, not only his works, but also his material samples and prototypes are valuable archives. What is the current status of these?


Kuramata I think that the glass samples are at Mihoya Glass and many of the other objects are at Ishimaru, but I don't know if they are organized orconverted into data because they are not finished works. It's been 25 years since Kuramata passed away. People's memories, including those of the staff at the time, become increasingly ambiguous, so I think it's important to record them in some form, but it's actually quite a difficult task.


 In preparation for our recent exhibition at 21_21 DESIGN SIGHT, I went to Ishimaru's warehouse to do some research. I was impressed by how carefully they were kept even now. I thought it would be a shame if they were just lying around in the warehouse, as they are all valuable documents that can feel Mr. Kuramata's creativity. What is the condition of the other sketches and articles you have published?


Kuramata Almost all the sketches are kept by Kuramata Design Office. I have also sorted out the magazine articles, focusing on those in which Kuramata himself speaks or is interviewed.


  You once told me that you would like to publish a book of Mr. Kuramata's words. Is that the reason why you organized the book?


Kuramata Yes, I do. I have a wish to publish a book of Kuramata's words. I took the time to digitize Kuramata's words for that purpose. I believe that Kuramata's ideas are best expressed in his own words.


 Mr. Issey Miyake has many of Kuramata's works in his collection. Is it because Mr. Kuramata designed most of the ISSEY MIYAKE shops in the 70's and 80's, and the fixtures, interiors, furniture, etc. for those shops are still in your collection?


Kuramata Yes, but I heard that he also has a collection of other Kuramata works.


 Mr. Kuramata is a world-famous designer, do you have any collections in foreign museums?


Kuramata Musée des Arts décoratifs, Paris, where the exhibition was held, has a collection of "Acrylic Stool (with feathers)" ; the Museum of Modern Art, New York has "Miss Blanche" "How High the Moon"; and Centre National d'art et de culture Georges Pompidou has "How High the Moon". The museum M+ in Hong Kong, due to its opening in 2019, will house the collection of Kuramata's dismantled "Kiyotomo" sushi bar in Shimbashi, which he designed in 1988.


 The entrance to the Bridgestone Head Office building in Kyobashi was one of the few surviving interior works by Mr. Kuramata, but it was demolished for reconstruction. However, I have been told that they have preserved as much as possible of his furniture and fittings. I hoped that the new building will make use of them in some way.
By the way, Mr. Kuramata's products, such as chairs and tables, are not designed for mass production, but each piece is individually made. In that sense, his works are more like art in the form of chairs and tables than design.


Kuramata Kuramata was not interested in mass-producing his own works in the first place, and since many of his chairs and tables were designed for specific interior works or exhibitions, they are all limited in number. In addition, many of the pieces are difficult to reproduce because of the advanced age of the craftsmen and the unavailability of materials.


  In this context, it is important that Mr. Kuramata's works are produced and sold by several manufacturers.


Kuramata The Italian company Cappellini has produced several pieces of furniture, such as the "Furniture in Iregular Forms", the Japanese company NICHINAN has produced a series of acrylic vases, YAMAGIWA has produced the "Lamp (Oba-Q)" and the "Spice Set" has been reproduced by WEST.


 I also heard that Mr. Kuramata was generous in giving away his works as gifts to people around him and friends.


Kuramata That's right. I was never a person who was attached to things or money, so he used to give his work as gifts to people who had helped him or who were close to him.


  I think Mr. Kuramata's works are valuable like art, so I think it's very natural that they should be auctioned or become part of museum collections. However, I also feel disappointed that this often means that they cannot be freely appreciated by everyone.


Kuramata It's true that even if a museum has a collection, it's not always on display. Musée des Arts Décoratifs, as they once had an exhibition of Kuramata's work, so his works are always displayed in the chair section.


 However, as a fan of Mr. Kuramata's design, I would like to see the exhibition in such a way that I can overview his whole worldview.


Kuramata I have kept many of his works in my office in the hope that I will have the opportunity to do so one day. However, when I think about the future, I wonder whether it is necessary to keep them in Japan at all costs. If there is a place that appreciates his work, recognizes its value, and stores and passes it on to future generations, I think it might as well be overseas.


 That's right. As Mr. Motomi Kawakami said, product design is bulky, so there is a limit to how much space you can save, and I think the effort and cost of doing that would be very difficult.
Now, about the design archive, I think it includes not only his works, but also drawings, sketches, photographs, etc. What about them?


Kuramata The photos are stored in the Kuramata Design Office, but at the time they were on film, which deteriorates with age, so I digitised the most important ones. As for the drawings, they were handwritten in those days, so they are large and on paper, so it's not easy to keep them. Now I sort and digitise what I think is important. I also keep all my sketches.


 In preparation for the exhibition, I looked at the handwritten drawings and sketches in particular, which I felt were very valuable as they conveyed the design concept and Kuramata's breathing.
By the way, Mr. Kuramata is a graduate of Kuwasawa Design School, but was there any movement to collect Kuramata's works at Kuwasawa Design School?


Kuramata There are many other graduates who are active in Kuwasawa Design School, so it must be difficult to collect only Kuramata's works.
Of course I would like to see the works and sketches exhibited in museums and galleries, but I would also like the archive left by Kuramata to be used for research and study of design and culture. On the other hand since many of the sketches and drawings are expressed in Japanese, I also want to keep in Japan, thoughts expressed in his own language.


 Are there any universities, institutes or researchers working on Mr. Kuramata in Japan?


Kuramata There is one person who studies Kuramata.




Possibility of a private museum


 Every time I come here (Kuramata Design Office, Setagaya-ward), I feel that this is a precious space where I can feel Mr. Kuramata's world view, now that very few of his interior works are still in existence. Ms. Mieko told me the other day that the Setagaya Art Museum has opened up the homes of artists living in Setagaya ward to the public as branch museums (private museums), such as the Mukai Junkichi Atelier and the Miyamoto Saburo Memorial Museum. I think it would be a good idea to make use of this place as a private museum in the same way. I think that Mr. Kuramata's works will come alive in a space that embodies his worldview.


Kuramata That's right. However, as I mentioned earlier, Kuramata himself was a man who believed that "things don't last ......". That's why he was so generous in giving away his works to friends and acquaintances. For Kuramata what was important to the process of thinking and creating the work.I think that's why he was so particular about keeping photographs of his finished works.


 When I (Seki) was an editor of a design magazine, I had the pleasure of being present at the shooting of Mr. Kuramata's works on several occasions. When I asked him who he would like to be the photographer for the article, he would say that he would be happy to have this person as the photographer, but he never attended the photo shoot himself. But when he saw the photos, he would sometimes be happy and say, "You took these photos like this?
But when he saw the photos, he would say "Oh! He took it like this", or "This is an interesting picture", and sometimes he would be happy, but other times he would be quiet and I felt he wasn't satisfied.
It was as if Mr. Kuramata and the photographer were having a dialogue through the photographs, which still leaves an impression on me.


Kuramata As for the private museum, it is a pleasure for me to be here and to have access to Kuramata's works, but for a permanent museum for an unspecified number of people, there are many things that need to be cleared, and to be honest, it is a heavy burden for me as an individual. The building was not originally designed to be a museum, and there are many hurdles to overcome in terms of consideration for neighborhood, funding, management and sustainability.
Also, I don't think Kuramata was "happy" that his works and designs would remain as a kind of authority. Therefore, I think that he would not have been happy if his works were only displayed as memorials or exhibits. I also hope that it will be useful for future design as a document rather than just as an exhibit.


 Yes, it is. I think it is important to make use of valuable materials for the future of design. For this reason, it is important to find a new kind of museum, or rather a space with a design theme, that fits the times. The form of "museum" was born and developed in the West, but we should try to find a new form that goes beyond this framework. The final goal of this "Research for Japanese Design Arhives" is to explore new design archives and museums.




Inheritance of the software of Kuramata's works


 On a different note, Mr. Kuramata's works are indispensable to the existence of highly skilled and passionate craftsmen such as Mihoya Glass and Ishimaru. I think that not only the finished work but also the production process leading to it is an important design archive.


Kuramata I agree with you. At Mihoya Glass, Mr. Mihoya himself devoted himself in realizing as a craftsman to realize Kuramata's design idea. Mr. Ishimaru, the president of Ishimaru, realized Kuramata's design through his network of highly specialized craftsmen in acrylic, metal and paint. I was told that nowadays these craftsmen are getting older, closing down their businesses and leaving no one to take their place. There are also materials that are difficult to obtain due to the changing times.


 I would like to document in some way the craftsmanship and techniques that made Mr. Kuramata's works possible. There was also a video of the "Shiro Kuramata and Ettore Sottsass" was shown exhibition at 21_21DESIGN SIGHT, where Mr. Kuramata himself appeared.


Kuramata At that time, it was not as easy to record images as it is today, but I have kept videos produced for exhibitions in Japan and abroad, as well as video from TV programmes. I believe that these are valuable to learn about Shiro Kuramata.


 Thank you very much for your valuable talk today. We would like to continue to interviews on Mr. Kuramata's archive, as well as the stories of Mihoya Glass and Ishimaru, too.




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